Starcross: Larklight 2
by Philip Reeve
Published by Bloomsbury
400 pages, 2007
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
In the novel Larklight, we met Art and Myrtle Mumby, who lived with their parents in the house of the title, orbiting the Earth of a Victorian era in a universe in which Isaac Newton is known, not for the laws of gravity but for his achievements in alchemy.
The Newton of our own universe was also an alchemist, but instead of the breakthrough in physics which made him a giant in our world, this Newton is famous for the breakthrough called the alchemical wedding, a process which allows spaceships (literally ships!) to travel through, not the vacuum of space, but the aether of mediaeval cosmology. As a result, the British Empire extends outside of Earth, through a solar system which is liveable and is populated with alien lifeforms. Those rebellious Americans never succeeded in gaining independence.
Art and Myrtle had a number of adventures, starting with a raid on Larklight by alien spiders and saved the Empire with the help of a crew of Gilbert and Sullivan-type pirates (all orphans) and discovered that their mother was an alien being four billion years of age, who had actually created the solar system. She’s still their mother, though, and perfectly happy to be married to the absent-minded scientist Mr Mumby.
This sequel is more or less standalone, though it’s better to have read the first book to familiarize yourself with the universe. Some time after the events of Larklight, the Mumby children and their mother are invited to spend some time at Starcross, a seaside resort in the asteroid belt. There is something very strange about Starcross, beginning with the question of how you can have a seaside on an asteroid with no oceans, and a married couple of secret agents have already vanished while checking it out. But Art, Myrtle and Mrs Mumby all get on the train through the aether (yes! You can travel between worlds by train in this universe) and set off for Starcross for a delightful holiday. Myrtle is not particularly happy at the moment because she has had no replies to her letters to the dashing Jack Havock, captain of the pirate ship Sophronia, with whom she had assumed she had a thing going. She is even less happy when she sees him at the resort, paying attention to another girl.
Starcross is a delicious romp filled with time travel, giant Martian clams, evil Punch and Judy machines, a nasty race of alien top hats from the distant future which are intent on taking over all intelligent beings, and a Douglas Adams-like race of beings who are knitting a World Cosy to cover their freezing planet and to this end have incorporated knitting into their culture.
This adventure is as funny as the first, beautifully illustrated by David Wyatt, including detailed endpapers advertising various products from the novel, Victorian-style. The writing style is also tongue-in-cheek Victorian. The hardcover edition is gorgeously presented, with Jules Verne-style cover art and golden top hats at each corner. I do suggest you get the hardcover edition, because while the story and art will be just as good, no paperback can quite do it justice.
The book suits good readers of mid-to-late primary school age. | February 2008
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.