First sentence: “Arabella eased her bedroom door open and crept into the dark hallway.”
Mars is home for Arabella Ashby. Not this London, England her mother has forced her to move to. She could be roaming the Mars frontier or fiddling with automatons at her family’s plantation, instead she’s learning to be a proper young lady in London at her mother’s urgings and suffocating under all the expectations and rules.
With threats to her brother’s life and plantation on Mars, Arabella runs off to save her brother. On her way to Mars, she disguises herself as a boy to get back; she joins the Diana, a ship from the Mars Trading Company, and learns how to work on a ship and navigate; she encounters dangers like French privateers and mutiny that she never flinches at. Arabella’s on a journey of a lifetime to Mars.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM ARABELLA OF MARS
- You have a girl who will do absolutely everything to save the people she loves, even if it puts her at danger.
Words I would use to describe Arabella Ashby: headstrong, brave, resilient, curious, quick thinker. She doesn’t care for English rules on propriety. She’ll break all the rules of what’s expected of her (and she does). Despite the terrible circumstances she finds herself in, she faces them head on. She disguises herself as a boy, and takes on jobs that exhausts and scares her. Arabella will do everything she can to get to Mars. If she has to do the heavy lifting and do jobs she has never done on the Diana, she’ll do it.
- You experience the high skies journey to Mars.
Want to know what life on a ship is like? The Diana shows you that. Life in the skies is very much like life on the sea. You sail across Space as if it’s the sea. Wind currents in pushes the ship forward fast. Asteroids are considered the islands of Space. It’s a wonderful way of traveling that Arabella gets to experience firsthand.
The journey to Mars is not relaxing trip. There’s a crew full of members of the Mars Trading Company working 24/7 to keep the ship sailing across Space by using the winds and a crew to navigate effortlessly. Being part of the crew means a lot of hard work that will physically and mentally exhaust you. Men are shoveling coal and pedaling; they have to fight and be quick on their frets when they’re in life-threatening situations. You gotta be able to pull your own weight. Arabella of Mars spends a lot of time exploring this life, which slows down the book a lot.
You learn a lot about navigation.
You learn everything there is to know about navigating through the skies and Space when Captain Prakash Singh takes Arabella under his wing. It’s a semi-complicated process that only a couple people can understand—Arabella included. Navigation on the Diana involves Aadim, an automaton that acts as a clockwork navigator and has the most accurate readings. This navigating automaton is a source of fascination for these characters, and I wish it was explored more, especially after some very curious moments with Aadim.
- You get a taste of Mars and Martian life, but not enough.
In this world, Mars is a British colony as well as a place Arabella calls home. It’s a place where it values its females over their male—warriors tend to be female Martians. It doesn’t seem any different from the countries Great Britain had colonized. The portrayal of Mars and Martians lack necessary world building. It’s an important place for Arabella, so I expected to learn more about Martian culture and custom and everything that makes them vastly different from English humans. It’s disappointing they aren’t really delved into until the last part of the book during the Martian uprising occurs. It made me wonder what life was life before and after Arabella moved to London.
- Arabella of Mars touches upon British colonialism briefly.
Mars and the Mars Trading Company will probably remind you of a former British colony—India. I didn’t like the portrayal of colonialism here because it’s hinted at but ultimately glossed over even though it vastly impacts Mars and Martians. These characters do not acknowledge the problems of it and the problems that can and will arise from it. It’s too idealistic and naive to not address the issue with colonialism even if it’s in a fun story.
Should you read Arabella of Mars? I’ll give a tentative maybe. If you want a steampunk-regency-kind of sci-fi book about a girl who pretends to be a boy, joins the ship crew to fly to Mars, and risks everything to save her brother, look no further than Arabella of Mars.
I personally was disappointed with the book. I wasn’t as invested in the story as I expected to be. Arabella of Mars feels a bit disjointed. It spends a lot of time exploring ship life, which is great but it doesn’t exactly move the story forward and ramp up the stakes that much, and it doesn’t do a lot of world building of Mars and Martians at all. It’s a steampunk-regency book that tries to have a bit of fun, but loses its way.