Friday, January 9, 2009

Review: Larklight by Philip Reeve

Larklight's full title is "Larklight, or The Revenge of the White Spiders! or To Saturn's Rings and Back!: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space," and that's exactly what it is.

Larklight takes place in an alternate England--I think it's Victorian, darn that terrible history professor--where the English want to conquer not other continents but other planets. Their scientists have discovered the secret to a chemical wedding that allows their ships to travel quickly from one to another. Larklight is the name of a house in space, occupied by Art and Myrtle Mumby, their father, and their robot servants. When a certain Mr. Webster comes to call, the children find themselves adrift in space to cope with aliens, space pirates, and a sinister plot threatening the whole of the solar system!

This is really more fantasy than sci-fi, but fans of either genre should find something to enjoy. It keeps up a feeling of offbeatness that other books aim for but don't always achieve. There are lovely weird ideas and a wonderful irreverence for practicality. The illustrations (all done by David Wyatt) are quirky, similar to those in The Edge Chronicles, and I really enjoyed how the text would occasionally reference them and make them part of the narrative.

The characters are fun, and although most of them are situated in traditional roles, Reeve has put in the work to make sure their actions aren't just stock responses. Art is my favorite, he's the funniest, and also the POV character. His older sister Myrtle is hilariously annoying though, and when the two are separated, Art provides journal entries from her secret diary to make up the difference.

I wasn't entirely pleased with the ending. It felt a little too planned, considering the tone of the book. Also, be prepared to discuss some religious issues with your preteen if you give it to them... for most of it the characters accept Victorian Christianity, then an alien creator is introduced, who then proceeds to proclaim a very vague concept of her own religion. I wished somebody would just pick one and stick with it.

This is the first book of a trilogy, the others being Starcross and Mothstorm, and I look forward to the other two tying up some unexplained points. There aren't a whole lot of similar books, which is great, but some I'd recommend are Fergus Crane by Paul Stewart and The Pirate's Mixed-Up Voyage by Margaret Mahy.

Buy Larklight

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