Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Arabella The Traitor Of Mars

Consider Phobos

Arabella The Traitor Of Mars
Written by David D. Levine
Tor Books ISBN: 978-0765382832

David D. Levine’s Arabella The Traitor Of Mars is, once again, an extraordinary and very special novel, being the third and, hopefully not final, tome rounding off the trilogy begun with Arabella Of Mars (reviewed here) and Arabella And The Battle Of Venus (reviewed here). And if you’re new to the truly wonderful fantasy world build by Levine, the novels tell of great Naval battles fought and explorations made in galleons sailing the air currents around the various planets in the Victorian era. They read, I’ll say again for any newcomers to the series, like a sly mixture of C. S. Forester, Jane Austen and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ interplanetary novels all rolled into one astounding science fiction package. And pardon me for gushing but it’s extremely rare I find a contemporary writer I actually like and, given the tragic circumstances under which this third tale was written (which I won’t go into here but you can read yourself in the afterword of the book), it seems like almost a miracle that this wonderful confection was ever written at all.

The novel is split into three main sections starting off with Section One - Earth 1816. Following the Battle Of Venus in the last book, where Arabella Ashby and her husband, Captain Singh and their latest companion Captain Fox were instrumental in helping Nelson defeat Napoleon in the air battle off Venus, Arabella finds herself back on Earth, getting along very well with the aid of her new clockwork foot, replacing the limb she lost at the end of her previous adventure. And the novel opens with a wonderfully atmospheric, icebound jubilee fair, on one of those rare occasions from olden days when the Thames used to freeze over and various stalls and games were introduced onto the frozen river. This is the first time that Arabella and her spouse have ever seen snow...

The scene then shifts to Brighton Pavilion, modelled after Venusian decor of course, when Arabella and her noble spouse are invited there by the Prince Of Wales. It is here, also, that Arabella is first introduced to a rare and decidedly overlooked gadget which turns out to be an early form of bicycle, which she helps improve and comes up with the idea of using pedals to increase its efficiency. However, a difficult and hard to decline offer from the Prince sees Arabella escaping Brighton to gain passage with Captain Fox to make the long journey to Mars, in order to warn them of the Prince’s plans to conquer and subjugate her home planet (she is human but was born and raised in the lighter gravity of Mars), with a fleet headed up by her newly promoted husband. She is thus, a traitor to her sovereign (as the English see it) and not a traitor to Mars, as was my initial concern when first reading the title of the book... but a traitor of Mars, as it more literally says.

Section Two - In Transit 1816, tells of the long journey to Mars and also of the arrival of a very welcome and unexpected ally. There’s also a battle with a giant space squid off of Mercury (the planet which Arabella is using to slingshot the crew of Fox’s ship into an air current to conduct them in a more efficacious manner towards Mars) and the discovery that the English intend to use underhanded tactics using a Venusian drug called Ulka, to subjugate the will of the Martians.

Section Three - Mars 1817 - 1819, tells of the long, harrowing and anxious preparations to equip various sympathetic concerns on Mars (not everyone wants to help maintain the independence of Arabella’s home-from-home planet, including a member of her own family who meant a lot to her in her past but who is now somewhat estranged and painted in villainous disposition), enabling them to at least attempt to hold their own against the mighty ships of the English. Much drama is wrought from the situation including more use of bicycles, a night time raid on drug smugglers to steal one of the Venusian animals which make the Helium gas needed to hold their own in their battles and, of course, a fleet (of sorts) with which to combat the menace. This all leads to two very exciting battles around the atmosphere of Phobos (a moon of Mars not discovered on Earth until much later than the setting of these stories in real life but, of course, in this alternate version of reality, the first human settlers on Mars would have discovered it for themselves straight away) and much damage is done to both sides, especially to the small Martian resistance hoping to turn the tide of battle. And of course I’m not going to tell you how all that goes, you need to read these books yourself but, I have to say, this one is probably even better than the last one as far as ‘edge of your seat suspense’ goes. Levine’s style of writing these tales, a kind of modernised appropriation of the stylistic writing of Jules Verne (I mean that as a compliment, for sure) is at once engaging and allows for a real empathy with the various characters and situations, breathing life into a tale of imagination which already has a lot going for it and which is only enhanced further by the fact that it’s incredibly well written and extremely entertaining.

And that’s me done with this saga for now... I can only hope the writer decides to come back to these characters at some point. There is a small, epilogue section set on Mars in 1828, where we see how the survivors of the last battle of the book have moved on nine years after and, frankly, a sequel could easily continue on from this point in time. It’s also a charming epilogue and a reminder of the sometime human characteristics of a certain automaton, whose inclusion in the novels is absolutely vital to the success of the campaigns and adventures related in the trilogy. I can only recommend Arabella The Traitor Of Mars as being another full-on and quite colourful entertainment, which I’m sure all great lovers of science fiction (and Naval warfare, for that matter) would embrace with an enthusiasm equalling my own. My one caveat is that, if you are entirely new to the series, don’t use this one as a jumping on point, go back to the first two novels and read the trilogy as a whole to get the best emotional investment from it. A truly splendid and joyous sequence of tales from start to finish.

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