Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Arabella of Mars

By David D. Levine
2016. Hardcover. 352pp. Tor Books.
Winner of the 2016 Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.

Arabella doesn’t want to be a lady, but her mother is determined to make her one. So when playful “hunting” with her brother results in an injury, Arabella’s mother decides to take her back “home”, to Earth. The only problem is, Arabella is from Mars. Well, she was raised there, and has no interest in returning to England and leaving her beloved Mars behind.
After receiving devastating news and tiring of the confines of British society, Arabella’s mother relents slightly and sends her to live with a cousin. Unfortunately, that doesn’t go to plan either and Arabella finds herself running away, looking for a ship that will take her to Mars so she can save her brother’s life. She has some trouble, even disguised as she is, but she eventually gets passage on the Diana with an unexpected task: to learn to work the navigating automaton. As she learns more about being a ship’s boy, the automaton, and the crew, Arabella must balance carefully her task and her loyalty on the ship.
Arabella of Mars is the 2017 winner of the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book, joining JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows (2008) and Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight (2011) as a winner.

I first picked up Arabella of Mars because it was listed in an article highlighting science fiction and fantasy novels. I enjoyed the story, although some elements of it were as expected for the genre. Arabella was the right mix of spunky and determined, while also acting like an actual teenager instead of like an adult in a teenager’s body. I especially enjoyed the scenes with the automaton, partially because I like the idea of automata and wish they were still popular. Some of the science wouldn’t work, but I guess that’s what makes it science fiction. The scenes with Arabella and the captain got pretty heart wrenching, but I particularly enjoyed Arabella and her brother’s relationship. Instead of falling into the usual trope of siblings who hate each other, Arabella and her brother support each other. When he’s accused of a crime, Arabella instantly knows it wasn’t him who did it.
I wish some of the science had been more realistic, sometimes science fiction takes the easy way out by making the science too fictional. A good example of that is Star Trek. Although this can be used to explore other conflicts and not have to worry about the science, worrying about the science can lead to interesting conflicts. I did really like the scenes on the ship, it reminded me of the ship from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, but with more crew-captain conflict.
This was, overall, a good summer read. It was a quick and easy read with enough action and serious moments to make a compelling story. The plot was entertaining and, while it didn’t throw many loops, it had a lot enjoyable moments and characters.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and who like steam punk and space fantasy.

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