RogerBW's Blog

Arabella and the Battle of Venus, David D. Levine 22 June 2018

2017 clockpunkish science fiction, sequel to Arabella of Mars. With her fiancé captured by Bonaparte, Arabella Ashby travels to Venus to rescue him.

This is the sort of book where a newspaper headline can read:

ASTONISHING EVENTS. ~ BONAPARTE ESCAPES MOON. ~ GREAT OGRE FLEES TO VENUS.

It's sometimes too firm in its paralleling of history – Nelson is in charge of the British fleet at the titular Battle of Venus, and is fatally shot by a French sniper – and sometimes not – Napoleon is also present, and the French bring a new and terrifying prototype ship.

But first we have the Venusian plantations, which more or less parallel African colonies much as Mars in this universe parallels India; here they've been taken over by Napoleon's forces, with Fouché assigned to get more work out of the prisoners and enslaved natives while he builds up the new and terrifying navy. (Robert Fulton is advising them on how to do this.)

Arabella is still rather too good at everything she turns her hand to, particularly the sudden invention of new naval tactics. There's some effort put into making her the point of a love triangle, but this never convinces, and ends up feeling like wasted time. A scientific puzzle (how do the French plan to launch their new fleet, given that they haven't built furnaces to inflate the hot-air balloons that everyone uses) is made to look like more of a challenge than it is.

Some effort goes into explaining what's going on (particularly how these interplanetary sailing-ships are launched), but I suspect the new reader might be somewhat lost, and I'd recommend reading the first book first. For me, at least, this was a bit of a step down in enjoyment, being set in the world more than it establishes it; the Venusian plantation scenes that make up the bulk of the story feel oppressive to the reader as well as to the characters, and the new French ship doesn't seem to hold up by the rules that Levine has previously established for this universe.

In the first book, Arabella was the only major female character; here she gains as a foil (and chaperone) an older lady, who's portrayed with some subtlety at first; but by the end, whenever she's opposed to Arabella she's Wrong, and Arabella is Not Like Other Girls so it's all right that Arabella gets to have adventures while other women stay at home.

It's still enjoyable but I didn't get the same sense of enthusiasm that I did from the first book. Levine was writing this while his wife was dying of brain cancer, so a certain lack of fun is understandable, but the book is poorer for it.

To be followed by Arabella the Traitor of Mars.

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Previous in series: Arabella of Mars | Series: Adventures of Arabella Ashby

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