Arabella of Mars by David Levine. Tor Books, 2016. Hardcover. 320 pages.
I recently received a copy of Arabella of Mars from a giveaway hosted by Wendell over at Bookwraiths, so a huge thank you to her for the opportunity to read this book! I was really excited to read this book because it sounds a bit different from what I normally read and I've been in the mood for something new and exciting. Plus, the concept of a 19th century world having great access to space travel is beyond tempting.
Arabella of Mars centers around Arabella, a young girl born and raised on Mars (yes, the planet), which is where she feels most at home. Arabella prefers to spend her time in pants, not dresses, being rowdy with the boys; she does not like the prim, modest young girls that exist back on earth in England. Thus, when she is forced to return to England with her mother and sisters to become a proper lady of society, Arabella is deeply upset. She is now separated from both her brother Michael and her true home. The trouble begins when certain circumstances prompt her to attempt to find quick passage back to Mars, and in order to do this she must disguise herself as a boy and work on a ship during its passage to Mars.
Though the iea of having a girl dress up as a boy in order to do something is a oft-used idea, I really enjoyed Levine's depiction and the many ways in which he made this realistic. He didn't gloss over anything that left us to wonder how she managed to get away with any bothersome aspects of being a woman, which is often a problem I encounter with these types of storylines.
This book is not shy in its use of technical jargon and complicated ideas, and I'll admit there were some areas where I felt myself glossing over, but fortunately things picked up soon after. Levine has created an incredibly complex world with exceptionally intricate mechanisms and he is not afraid to use all of these things to their fullest extent.
I really liked Arabella. She is tough and bold, but not overly so to the point where it becomes unbelievable or annoying, which is a trap a lot of authors seem to fall into and Levine skillfully avoids. She still had her faults and insecurities and there were definitely times when she made mistakes, but these features tied together with her own strength and ever-increasing bravery made her a wonderfully well-rounded character.
Along with Arabella is a cast of characters that bring even more life and vibrancy to the story. While the supporting are all fairly stereotypical characters, they are still well-developed and bring even more interest to the story itself. The most intriguing of these characters if Captain Prakash Singh, an intelligent, stoic Indian captain who gives Arabella the chance to prove herself aboard his ship.
As far as the setting goes, I really love this alternate 19th century! The thought of being able to easily travel to Mars sounds preposterous in a book set in this particular context, but Levine constructs his world in such a way that I found it perfectly believable. It sounds perfectly plausible and I had so much fun with this idea. I also enjoyed Levine's creation of the native Martians, as they were very distinct, but not written in a demeaning manner. They have their own special customs, and it was interesting to see how Levine explored the dynamic between the natives and the humans that have colonized the land on Mars.
I think Levine did wonderful working creating a historical period with the technology and methods to get to Mars and inhabit it, as well as in developing interesting characters and a detailed world, and for these reasons I am giving it four well-earned stars.
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