Author: David D. Levine
Book: Arabella of Mars (The Adventures of Arabella Ashby #1)
Published: May 2017
Publisher: Tor Books
A novel of adventure, romance, intrigue, and space travel—in the age of Napoleon. Arabella Ashby is a young woman growing up on the untamed frontier of Mars. She contentedly spends her days working on complex automata (clockwork devices) with her father, playing games of hide and seek with her brother, or learning local customs and languages from her Martian nanny. However, Arabella’s mother is mortified that Arabella is not learning to behave as a proper English lady should. Her solution is to move Arabella and her sisters to an exotic place they’ve never seen before: London, England on Earth.
When the family plantation on Mars comes under threat, Arabella decides that doing what is needed is more important than being ladylike. She disguises herself as a boy and finds herself a berth on the Mars Trading Company ship Diana. Here she meets a captain who is intrigued by her skill with automata. Arabella learns how to sail as war rages between Britain and France.
Arabella of Mars won the Andre Norton Award for 2017.
Arabella of Mars combines steampunk with space travel. Devices are mostly clockwork, including an analog navigation computer with personality. Arabella is a young woman living on a plantation on the planet Mars. However, her pastimes are not at all ladylike, to the dismay of her mother, resulting in Mrs. Ashby and her daughters sailing back to Earth, leaving her husband and son Michael behind to mind the plantation. When her ne’er-do-well cousin takes it into his head to kill Arabella’s brother to claim the family fortune, Arabella must make a decision. She can do the ladylike thing. She chooses to act instead.
In order to make the story work, the author had to recreate some of the realities of space travel, but the result is a fun adventure. David D. Levine goes into some period issues such as the proper role of women, colonialism, entailment of estates, without getting too bogged down. The descriptions of life aboard ship are based heavily on the nautical practices of the Napoleonic War Era. The overall pace of the story is moderately fast. The song “When I was a Fair Maid” kept going through my head as Arabella took her berth on the Diana.