Recommended for ages 9-12
is the first in a ‘tween steampunk trilogy by Philip Reeve, and I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this book. Steampunk? Pirates? Pass that book over!
I was not disappointed. A great read for both boys and girls interested in science fiction and fantasy, Larklight offers a little something for everyone. The main character, Arthur Mumby, is a boy of about 11 or 12 who lives with his 14-year old sister, Myrtle (who is a very big part of the storyline – no wallflower female characters in this book!) and their widowed father upon Larklight, a floating home in space. The story takes place during the Victorian era, and the British Empire has colonized space. Aetherships cruise the skies much as Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge hunted ships in the waters on earth.
Mr. Mumby, a xenobiologist, agrees to a meeting with a correspondent who refers to himself as “Mr. Webster” – when he arrives, we discover that Webster is an evil space spider with whose spidery army traps Larklight and Mr. Mumby in their webs. Art and Myrtle escape, ultimately ending up with a band of space pirates led by Jack Havoc, a teenager with his own troubled past, and his band of alien misfits. Running from the British Empire, Jack joins Art and Myrtle on their quest to save their father and learn what made them Webster’s target.
In addition to the nonstop action and wonderfully Victorian narrative, there is mech and steam aplenty for steampunk fans. Giant, mechanized spiders, steam-driven aetherships propelled by alchemic reactions, and an assault on Queen Victoria – what more could a kid possibly ask for?
I appreciated Reeve’s strong male and female characters. At first glance , Myrtle appears solely as Art’s antagonist for Art but emerges as a strong, clever character – it’s interesting to see her character evolve. Ssil, one of Jack Havoc’s alien crew, has no idea where her origins lie, providing a sense of mystery and pathos. She has only the family she creates around her, but longs to know who she is. While scientific men are assumed to be the only ones capable of performing the “chemical wedding” that propels aetherships into space, Ssil performs it with ease – indeed, she is the only member of Jack’s crew who can do it.
There are two sequels to Larklight, also by Reeve: Starcross and Mothstorm, that I expect I shall be picking up shortly. The film rights for Larklight have been bought and a film is due out in 2013.
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