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Philip Reeve – LarklightVictorian-era space pirate adventure? Steampunk for Younger Readers? 

Larklight is the first book in the series of the same name by Philip Reeve, and let's just start by stating that I loved it - it's charming, to say the least. And excellently executed, from the story, the Victorian references, the illustrations, through to the packaging and little extras!

The story follows Arthur ‘Art’ Mumby, 11, (no relation to the historical Arthur Mumby) who lives in Larklight, a house in Lunar Orbit, with his father and his annoying older sister Myrtle. Their father is a Xenobiologist, specialising in ‘Aetheric Icthyomorphs’ (essentially fish swimming in the Aether), of which there are a lot around Larklight.

When a Mr Webster, supposedly from the Royal Xenological Institute, pays them a visit things take a turn for the worse (or, shall we say, for the adventurous?), as Mr Webster is a giant, white spider. Or, to be more precise, a giant, white, arachnid alien life form with 12 legs. And he brought a lot of his kin, and takes Larklight over. Art (and Myrtle, to his dismay) just make it out in a Lifeboat, but his father is caught and spun into a chrysalis.

The Lifeboat, not surprisingly, ends up on the surface of the Moon, and while Art and Myrtle walk through the wilderness in the direction of the next settlement they are caught by a Potter Moth (nothing to do with the current Miss Potter film AFAIK), who catches its prey alive, and encloses it, including an egg/larvae, in strong pots it fashions from its saliva and moondust. Lovely, no? But our heroes (well, our hero and his sister – the story is told from Art’s point of view!) are rescued by the infamous Space Pirate Jack Havock (barely older than the two) and his crew of multi-planet, multi-species misfits (including a pair of Anemone-looking beings from a sea world).

And so they are drawn into an adventure including a cosmic plot that threatens to exterminate all life in the solar system, and, worse, the British Empire!

 

The book is wonderfully Victorian and old-fashioned, which is no detriment to its readability. The world/universe it plays in is very Victorian, from the names for people and objects, to the general use of language as well as the scientific ideas employed.

There is a British Empire, spanning Earth (most thereof), and with colonies on most of the inner Planets (Britain being the only space-faring nation!). There are other species, including natives from old, fallen empires based on Mars (slim, elfin, Ruskin skin) and Io (strong, broad, powerful, four arms), and a plethora of other intelligent non-humanoid beings.

There is no such thing as ‘empty space’ or vacuum – what you have a low-pressure ‘Aether’, where the Aether-ships fly between the planets (using a top-secret process called ‘Alchemical Wedding’ to propel themselves) and where the Icthyomorphs and their predators swim. Humans can breathe there, albeit with some difficulties. There also seems to be breathable air on all planet visited (although there are times when you don’t want to breathe Venus’ air, or you’ll go the way of the lost colony!)

The entire book and the story reminds me of something by Jules Verne (the illustrations are very Verne, too), or the movie Steamboy.

 

Warner Bros’ owns the film rights for the story (bought them before the book was officially out!), so we’ll see some kind of ‘Treasure Planet’ re-hash with real actors soon. It could be wonderful, but we know what the studios sometimes do with magical stories like this one… shudder…

Essentially this is Steampunk for younger Readers, and it is CHARMING and engrossing, an excellent book. I’m not sure how female readers will react to the young male perspective – Myrtle is portrayed as annoying and a bit of an airhead (until the crunch comes…), which is accurate from my memories of younger years.

The entire package is done with a lot of thought and care. It starts with the format of the book (a strangely sized hardback, looking like some old-fashioned story/treasure book), the faux-ads on the endsheets, or, nicely smuggled in, like the lines “The pages of this volume are impregnated with Snagsby’s Patent Folio-dubbin to preserve them against the depradations of space moth and paper bats.” on the fly sheet after all the other publishing information. Priceless.

A recommendation? Why are you still here? This is one of the essential books of 2006, go get it already, is worth the few bob it costs!

 

More Philip Reeve

 

Title: Larklight

Series: Larklight

Series Number: 1

Author: Philip Reeve

Author: David Wyatt (Illustrator)

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net

Publisher:  Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Publication Date: 2 Oct 2006

Review Date: 12 Jan. 07

ISBN: 0747582408

Price: UKP12.99

Pages: 416

Format: Hardback

Topic: Childrens

Topic: SF

Topic: Steampunk

 

 

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