RogerBW's Blog

Arabella the Traitor of Mars, David D. Levine 25 September 2019

2018 clockpunkish science fiction, third and probably last in the series. With Napoleon defeated, the Prince Regent decides that it's time to conquer (and profit from) all of Mars. Arabella, who grew up there and feels herself Martian at heart, sets out to prevent him.

Which might be a setup for just another white-saviour story, but Levine has smartened up a bit since the previous book and, while Arabella and the other humans are certainly taking senior positions in the Martian Resistance and coming up with some of the world-saving ideas, there's an attempt to show it as very much an organisation run by the Martians. Still a bit edgy perhaps, but it just about works.

While the basic approach of "Napoleonic naval warfare in space" is continued, there's an asymmetry that pushes this book's battles away from the historical model: the Martians use only small ships, with single light guns that can't penetrate the British armour, so they have to aim for vulnerable points, and all in all the setting's rules have to be bent quite a long way from the Napoleonic basis in order for the good guys to have any chance at all of winning.

With two major battles, the people are pushed back somewhat from the narrative foreground, and really only Arabella herself (in tight third-person narration) gets much in the way of a personality. Even the sailors who enlivened the previous books are mostly just name-checked here. This is the weakest of the three volumes for people, and I could have done with less battle and more talk, especially about the Martians.

There are oddities of technology: even though the ships' "pulsers" are driven by the crew with pedals, Baron Drais's proto-bicycle Laufmaschine appears on historical schedule, and it takes genius Arabella to think of fitting pedals to it.

For me this was better than the second volume, but it hasn't recovered the spirit of the first – understandable given Levine's personal situation, but it still doesn't make for a great book.

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Previous in series: Arabella and the Battle of Venus | Series: Adventures of Arabella Ashby

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