Arabella The Traitor of Mars, by David D. Levine (Tor)
First I must offer an explanation of why it took me so long to review this book, which entails a bit of background. I was introduced to the work of David D. Levine through his science fiction short stories, which by the way are awesome and utterly award-worthy. I loved the concept of the first “Arabella” book, Arabella of Mars. Intrepid heroine/coming of age! Steampunk airships travel between planets! Adventures on Mars! What more could I want? Oh yes, a bit of stowawaying and a touch of romance. I loved that first book.
Alas, when I picked up Arabella the Traitor of Mars, I did not realize there was a middle book (Arabella and the Battle of Venus). I started reading Traitor but quickly (as on the first page) realized that much, too much had happened. Who are these other people and why does Arabella have a prosthetic foot? I set it aside, thinking to pick up the middle book at some vaguely future time and then return. In the way of things, that future time kept stretching further and further away.
Then, as fate would have it, I heard Levine read the opening chapter at a convention, FogCon to be exact. First of all, Levine is an amazing reader, expressive and elegant, perfectly conveying the mildly Victorian steampunk flavor of the narrative. Two sentences in, I was captivated. Ignorance of the middle book evaporated into insignificance. So I returned to Traitor, now perfectly willing to let the story carry me along in trust that all would be made clear from context. And it was.
The Victorian sensibilities of steampunk play out in a parallel to English imperialism, with striking echoes of the occupation of India and the Opium Wars in China. Arabella remains true to her Martian roots, loyal to her principles and her alien friends, and courageous enough to leave her dearly loved husband to warn Mars of the impending assault. The chase sequence is one of the best, most dramatically perfect, I’ve ever read, worthy of the best of Patrick O’Brien or C.S. Forester. And the rest of the book is just as good. The series is highly recommended.
The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything in particular about it. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.
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