Book Tour Review + Giveaway: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Thursday, July 14, 2016
Title: Arabella of Mars
Author: David D. Levine
Genre: science fiction
Series: The Adventures of Arabella Ashby #1
Pages: 352
Published: July 12 2016
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, they proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.

Now, one century later, a plantation in the flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby. A tomboy who shares her father’s deft hand with complex automatons. Being raised on the Martian frontier by her Martian nanny, Arabella is more a wild child than a proper young lady. Something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.

Arabella soon finds herself trying to navigate an alien world until a dramatic change in her family’s circumstances forces her to defy all conventions in order to return to Mars in order to save both her brother and the plantation. To do this, Arabella must pass as a boy on the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company with a mysterious Indian captain who is intrigued by her knack with automatons. Arabella must weather the naval war between Britain and France, learning how to sail, and a mutinous crew if she hopes to save her brother from certain death.
Steampunk, science fiction, and alternate realities combine with Regency-era manners and customs to create the fun mishash of genres and ideas that is Arabella of Mars. Part adventure, part coming-of-age story, with an excellent slow-burning romance, this series beginner introduces a lot of fun concepts and also its fair share of well-drawn, interesting characters. Veteran author David D. Levine makes creative use of some genre tropes and also isn't afraid to turn stereotypes and expectations on their heads.

In this alternative version of history, the English drive for domination have led them all the way to Mars. In Arabella's version of the world, her nation's people have been colonizing Mars since the 1600s, and do so using open-air steampunk ships equipped with automaton technology. Levine's version of space exploration is utterly unlike the real world's, but he adapts interstellar travel to his created world's available tech rather well. In fact, the steampunk elements are utilized sparingly and smartly and never overwhelm the plot. Some of the finer points of how the ship functions aren't too clear, but the fun in the story is enough that readers won't notice or won't care. 

Arabella Ashby, 16 and a frustration to her mother, is the eponymous and relateable heroine of the novel. Using an excellent third-person POV, Levine has created a visual and descriptive narrator, and a smart one as well. Her personality is large and multi-dimensional; she's headstrong, likeable, a bit naive, and stubborn. She's not a girl who is at home in the strict rules of British Society, but instead feels natural planning counter-maneuvers in the Martian sand with her beloved brother Michael. Her relationship with her brother is both the emotional core of the book and the reason behind Arabella's personal arc. This is a girl who loves her brother enough to risk pirates, mutinies, and a rebellion just to be near enough to protect him.

The beginning of the novel is a high-flying genderbending adventure. Arabella's hard work, both as a captains boy and to keep her identity a secret, on the Diana makes for an intense and exciting story. However, that fraught interstellar journey is just the beginning of her struggles. It's easy to see the analogy of the fictional British colonization of Mars with the real-world way India was invaded by the British Empire. Like with that historical occupation, the people of Mars are relegated to subordinate roles and their culture is ignored or desecrated. This uneasy coexistence is explored from both sides of the conflict as it builds more and more pressure, and creates a strong secondary plot for the last half of the novel.

There was a lot to appreciate over the 350-page length of Arabella of Mars as both a fan of YA and of science fiction. The strong sibling relationship was definitely one of the highlights, as was the subtle but slow-burning romance (enjoyable and painful at the same time), and the creativity of the steampunk technology is refreshing. Touching carefully but meaningfully on societal themes that intersect with Arabella's experience (such as racism, sexism, feminism, and of course colonialism) this is a multi-layered story. Mixing manners and magic, steampunk and starlight, Arabella of Mars is an excellent launch-point for further adventures to come.

And thanks to the wonderful people at Tor Books, I have a copy to giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Arabella of Mars is a 

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