Sometimes books require a leap of faith to embrace their premise, and Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine is a novel that asks quite a large leap, at least for those not familiar with fantasy and science fiction novels. But if we can accept the basic tenets of Levine’s literary world, we come out the other side with a great adventure story that calls back to the classic science fiction serials of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.
Levine’s novel imagines that scientists discovered interstellar travel between planets in the 1600s by way of airships and steam engines, and that during this time, England colonized Mars and its crab-like native inhabitants. Our title character, Arabella Ashby, was born on Mars as the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner. When Arabella is separated from her older brother Michael and forced by her mother to go to Earth so she can be a proper lady, she discovers a murderous plot against her brother and must return to Mars by any means necessary. Arabella disguises herself as a boy and lies her way onto a merchant ship bound for Mars, and has many swashbuckling adventures on her way to save her brother.
I really enjoyed the concept behind this novel, and Levine backs it up with cohesive and logical world building. However, though Arabella is strong, independent, and nuanced, the other characters could use a little more fleshing out and seemed a bit flat. I am looking forward to reading more about Arabella and her adventures in the sequel, Arabella and the Battle of Venus, which came out this year. If you enjoy science fiction, adventure, and a well-told historical tale, pick up this book and join Arabella on an airship bound for Mars.
Review by Shannon Wood
Adult Services Librarian
Nordonia Hills Branch Library