BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Art and Myrtle Mumby adventure throughout the solar system in search of the reasons behind a Sider attack on their home, Larklight.
PROS: Very cool setting, humor and wit abound, interesting characters, non-stop adventure!
CONS: Some violence and death.
BOTTOM LINE: Larklight is a fantastic novel for young and old readers alike. If you like anything Steampunk, you’ll love Larklight.
IN WHICH WE LEARN OF THE ROUSING TALE TOLD IN THE STORYBOOK, LARKLIGHT.
Larklight is subtitled: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Furthest Reaches of Space. And indeed, much pluck is roused in a dauntless fashion in space. The furthest reaches being, in this case Saturn. But what, exactly, is Larklight? Part H.G Welles, part Edgar Rice Burroughs and part steampunk, Larklight is a wholly enjoyable, family friendly book for kids of all ages. Its basically an alternate history book, where the 19th Century view of the universe is correct. Breathable aether makes up the space between planets, the British Empire basically control the Earth and Mars, aetherships ply the spaceways between planets, and a band of ‘cut throat’ pirates harries shipping. Larklight starts off with an attack on Art and Myrtle’s house, Larklight, by unknown spider creatures. Art and Myrtle manage to escape, their father doesn’t, and what follows is their attempt to find out why attacked them, why they did so, and to get back home.
Philip Reeve has created an incredibly interesting and fun setting that takes the steampunk genre into space, albeit in a book for younger readers (grades 6 – 10 according to Amazon). All sorts of amazing contraptions are described, some listed above, and others being a giant mechanical spider, cities on Mars, a habitable but dangerous Venus, and an ‘alchemical wedding’ process that propels the aetherships through space. Everything hangs together beautifully and serves as an interesting backdrop for the adventures of Art and Myrtle. Reeves seems to have channeled H.G. Welles in his ability to create interesting machines and creatures for the Mumby’s to encounter, and set in Burroughsesque universe where adventure abounds and no planet is really uninhabitable by humans, and a healthy does of steampunk ideas tie the whole thing together. Very impressive work.
The writing in Larklight is written in a similar vein to the serialized stories of that time period as well. It alternates between Art’s and Myrtle’s stories and is written in the formalized style prevalent in Victorian England. Myrtle also happens to be a very proper Victorian lady and acts accordingly to situations and language. In fact, this leads to much of the wit and humor (or should I say, humour?) in the book. It arises naturally not only from the bizzare situations the kids find themselves in, but also from the natural atagonistic realationship between brother and sister. Reeve has created two very likable characters, even if they aren’t the best people at all times. Even the supporting characters are interesting, from the pirate Jack Havok to the John Carter of Mars character, Sir Richard Burton. Very well done.
As far as the story itself goes, it is a rousing tale full of adventure. Larklight takes about 10 pages or so to set the story, then it goes flat-out for the next 290 pages to the rousiing conclusion. It’s almost non-stop, rollicking action as Art and Myrtle careen from one adventure to another, from one revalation to another. And the twists are unexpected. Mostly due to the fact that it’s written for a bit younger reader, Reeve can hide these twists without and clues. Still, they fit the nature of the story and are fun fun fun.
About the only negative I had was that there was some violence in the story. And I don’t mean the adventure type, I mean the actual killing of people type. There are several killings here, but they are handled in a minimalist manner and the story quickly moves on. Parents be warned if you are concerned about that type of thing.
Not knowing what to expect from this book, aside from the obviously cool setting, I was very impressed with Larklight and recommend it to sci-fi readers of all ages!