Mrs. Pollifax, elderly women as spies cont.

As I was writing last week’s post, I knew that I was forgetting something. I’d read fun stories about an elderly woman involved in espionage before. Or more accurately, I’d listened to them: some of my childhood’s many long car rides were filled with hours of Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax books on tape. Young Henry thought those books were both hilarious and excellent.

I haven’t read them since. But I want to. I want to read them again, find out whether or not they’re as fun as I remember them being. In my memory, they were a perfect storm of ridiculousness and good genre fiction.

That said, I’m a little hesitant too. The first books in the series (there are many of these books) were written in the 60s. The last one was published in 2000. Given the gulf of years, I bet I’m going to stub my toes on something.

But I’m willing to bet it’ll be worth it. At worst, they’ll give me a place to start in my hunt for similar genre fiction. And if they’re anywhere near as good as I recall, I’ll probably be guffawing my way through them.

Plus, for all the absurdity and narrative contrivances that I remember in the several Mrs. Pollifax books I listened to, I think they captured several very important points that flashier spy stories forget. It’s valuable to be overlooked and underestimated. And—maybe this was just my impressionable youth speaking, but—Dorothy Gilman was nearly of an age with my grandmother, and Mrs. Pollifax’s surprising skillset reminded me of my grandmother too.

I remember growing up with plenty of stories about my grandmother. She fixed a stranger’s broken car on the side of the road (in Uganda or Kenya I think), using safety pins and pantyhose to replace a timing belt. She reversed a van at speed down a dirt track while being chased by a bull elephant. She had other adventures too, but more regularly she would weigh and vaccinate hundreds of babies in an open-air clinic, or help local women establish clinics in their villages and towns. And when I knew her as an older woman, she kept a thriving thicket of a garden, pointing me to the various things she wanted me to cut or harvest, showing me the good berry brambles.

So when I read Mrs. Pollifax, I see a little bit of my grandmother. They’re not the same person at all, they’re not doing the same things, but… in some ways they’re cut from similarly capable cloth. And reading that in a piece of spy fiction, when the protagonist sometimes underestimates herself almost as badly as her opposition does, is simply a treat.

Anyway, yes, I’m looking forward to picking up those books again. Maybe I’ll have something more for you here when I do.

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White boys and spy stories

There’s more to be written here than I’ll address today. I’m putting this here because I’m sure I’ll have future posts on the topic. This particular topic came to mind through watching some of The Recruit, and through starting Arabella The Traitor of Mars.

Lots of spy fiction (I haven’t done a survey but I’d bet it’s the majority of it) is obsessed with the perspectives of white men. A revolutionary realization, I’m sure.

The thing is… that obsession is laughable. It’s ridiculous. I’ve known this for some time, but every so often I’m forcibly reminded of it.

Despite the relative position of power held by white men in Western society—no, because of it—white men are a strange choice for your default spies. If you could pick someone to be your spy, you’d be better off picking someone more likely to be overlooked or ignored by the society in which you want to gather intelligence. There are certainly other challenges for agents who aren’t white men, and those agents might struggle to reach every place or position of influence an agency might want access to (honestly, spy agencies should want agents of every shape and flavor), but I think there’s a solid reason the British SOE valued middle-aged and not-quite-elderly women for work in Nazi-occupied Europe.

And yet, so many of our spy stories still dwell on white male protagonists. It’s not surprising. White male protagonists have been the default for many genres for many decades, alas. But I’d love to see some fun spy fiction about a frumpy little elderly woman who is consistently overlooked and underestimated. I’m sure the genre exists, now I just need to go find it.

Away

I’m visiting family, and I’ve neglected to prepare a post for today. I am part way through A Taste of Gold and Iron, by Alexandra Rowland, and I’ll probably post about that soon. It’s fun. Court intrigue, gay romance, fun.

I hope that you’re doing well and staying safe and warm. Happy holidays.

A House With Good Bones, by T. Kingfisher

My experience of reading A House With Good Bones was weird, because I made some silly assumptions. It was also fun, and good, and I’d recommend the book. However, this isn’t an in-depth review; I’ll share more about this book elsewhere through GeeklyInc, so I’m focusing on my reading experience here. When I dive deep into the book, I’ll let you know.

Onwards.

I’ve previously read and enjoyed several other books from T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon). I’ve come to expect, for better or worse, a certain flavor of genre fiction. Her Saint of Steel series and her Clocktaur War books are all fantasy romance with other genres laced in (murder mystery, adventure, horror, etc). I foolishly allowed myself to think that everything she published as T. Kingfisher would therefore also have strong romance genre elements, and would feel like romance overall.

I was wrong!

Okay, I wasn’t that wrong. There are still hints of romance genre conventions here. There are plenty of things in this story that feel like they belong in a romance novel. They’re fun when they show up and they help lighten the mood. But the book doesn’t deliver all the requisite story beats for it to feel like or qualify as romance. Instead, it has just enough romance to allow the audience to enjoy a little bit of that flavor while enjoying all the rest of what the book is really about.

Which is horror. Spooky, weird horror. Spooky, weird gradual horror that reminds me powerfully of the RPG Unknown Armies, which is in turn inspired by the fiction of Tim Powers (who you’ll be shocked to know also writes some spooky, weird horror).

And Ursula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher, is good at writing this horror.

I already knew she was good at other flavors of horror. Her Saint of Steel books revolve around the murder mystery and fantasy horror genres (yes, with romance), and I had a grand time with those. But the horror of those books is different from the horror of A House With Good Bones. And that difference, plus the less-present romance, threw me for a loop.

To dig into that flavor metaphor, I took my first bite of this dish thinking I was eating Italian and found out I was eating Indian. Sure, both words start with “I,” both cuisines make good use of tomatoes, and both are delicious—but what I got was not what I was expecting.

I figured out what was going on pretty quickly. I was happy with it. I spent a good portion of my time with this book smacking my lips and saying “huh!” and trying to suss out the different ingredients.

So. Yes, I recommend this book when it comes out. Yes, I had fun with it. Yes, if you like T. Kingfisher’s other work you’ll probably enjoy this too. But keep in mind that this is—first and foremost—something besides romance. With that, I think you’ll have a good time.

Hoping for more Thufir Hawat

This is about Dune. It has some spoilers.

I saw news about filming for Dune: Part Two, and got excited again. I’ll try to explain a little bit of why.

First off, a warning for the unfamiliar. The book Dune has… problems. Plenty of them. It has uncomfortable themes of colonialism and orientalism baked into the original text, and those are still present in most interpretations of its story. It has white savior tropes. It has the gender norms and judgments of a White American man from the 1950s and 60s, complete with a fixation on effeminacy that would fit right in with creepy racist 1800s anthropology. Heck, Dune so exemplifies the troublesome and implicitly misogynistic “hard times make hard men” mythos that Bret Devereaux named his dissection of that mythos “the Fremen Mirage” when writing about it at ACOUP.

But in all that mess there are beautiful, very human stories–and I’d absolutely recommend watching Dune: Part One (preferably on a large screen with a very good sound system). One of those stories, one I’m desperately hoping to see finished on the screen in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, is the tragedy of Thufir Hawat. It’s a sad story of personal loyalty, betrayal and manipulation, and love, and it carries with it all the weight of classical dramatic feudal intrigue.

See, while Dune came out in the era of classic hard science fiction, and certainly takes place in a setting with interstellar travel and many other things we associate with hard sci fi, it’s focused on society and people rather than technology. It is feudal intrigue and political maneuvering in space, an extremely human-focused story exploring the impacts of a technologically constrained setting built from a wide variety of different inspirations. In many ways this is socially and personally focused “soft” sci fi, much as Ursula Le Guin’s work was (maybe the only time I’ll say Dune is like Le Guin’s work). 

Perhaps that personal focus is why Thufir Hawat’s story would fit as neatly in a Shakespearean tragedy as it would in any novel of spaceships and distant worlds.

I love Thufir Hawat in the 2021 version of Dune. Stephen McKinley Henderson does a phenomenal job. It’s Henderson’s performance which anchors my love for Hawat, and which leaves me hoping to see the rest of the mentat’s tragedy. I don’t recall having such deep and abiding affection for the character when I read the book (decades ago) or saw the David Lynch version of the movie (also long ago). Perhaps I would feel that connection if I reread the book today, but I wager my fondness would also be a reflection of how I feel for Henderson’s portrayal.

The relationship between Thufir Hawat and Paul Atreides is close. It’s avuncular. This rings true for basically all the Atreides retainers, even Dr. Wellington Yueh in his moment of betrayal, but you can see Hawat’s love for Paul—and his scathing self-judgment—in his immediate and anguished reaction to the assassination attempt against Paul. That continues through the rest of his time on screen, especially when we see his stone-faced, pained stiffness as people commend Paul for outsmarting the hunter-killer.

In fact, 2021’s Dune does a spectacular job of showing us the constellation of House Atreides’ retainers. Villeneuve put so much work into showing us the Atreides as a tight-knit family, as Paul’s family. And the actors played that family to the hilt. It was beautiful. The twisting of their emotional ties as they are caught up in the complex machinations intended to destroy them, the way Paul and each other family member reacts as they see their loved ones shorn away by treachery… it makes the fall of House Atreides all the more tragic.

No doubt that poignant tragedy is why I’m so caught up in the drama of the fall of House Atreides. And why I’m so looking forward to seeing Henderson return as Hawat in Dune: Part Two

I know what the book has in store. Thufir Hawat rises to prominence within House Harkonnen, replacing the Mentat Piter De Vries (poisoned following the Harkonnen attack on Arrakis). In his new position as Mentat for the Harkonnen, Hawat does his best to keep himself alive while setting the Harkonnen against themselves (moreso than they already were). When he finally learns the truth, that Paul survived, he kills himself rather than follow Baron Harkonnen’s orders to kill Paul.

It’s Shakespearean.

Denis Villeneuve has been remarkably faithful to the book thus far. And so I’m extremely excited to see Stephen McKinley Henderson bring all his remarkable talent to the sad path that awaits Thufir Hawat. Thufir Hawat is an excellent tragic hero, and I trust Henderson to once again remind me why I love a good tragedy.

I just hope that the full arc of Hawat’s story makes the cinematic cut.

This is me, sitting with fingers crossed, waiting for Dune: Part Two.

Arabella and the Battle of Venus, by David D. Levine

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Arabella of Mars, and I’m glad to say that Arabella and the Battle of Venus lived up to all my expectations and then some. David D. Levine has crafted another excellent adventure story in his science fiction alternate history setting. If you like Regency-era drama, Age of Sail adventure, and historical science fiction, these books will (heh, it’s funny if you’ve read the books) float your boat.

If you took my advice and read and enjoyed the first book (yes, I advise you to enjoy the book), I think you’ve got a safe bet with this one. Arabella and the Battle for Venus is a solid sequel. Reading it was a delight, though I did squirm a little bit (more on that in a moment). It offers another excellent adventure while cleaving to the genres of the first book, and reminds me of the enjoyment I found reading Hornblower books in sixth grade but with altogether more depth… and the promise of additional depth to come.

Now, mild thematic and book jacket-level spoilers.

There is a little more weight lent to the romantic subplot this time around, as one might expect from a story about a young woman racing across a war zone to free her fiancé from a POW camp. I hadn’t expected there to be any other romantic complications, though I should have, and those stressed me out a bit! They’re what made me squirm, maybe for the same reasons rom coms do. I’m still not sure I fully understand that part of myself. But—despite my squirming—I think the book and characters are probably better off for those complications. They help to grow Arabella emotionally from where she started in the first book, and I appreciate that.

I’m going to take a tangent here, weaving back through the first book. I’ll eventually return to this book, and my tangent will have some vague thematic spoilers without hitting any concrete plot points.

My biggest concern with the first book was that it wasn’t clear to me whether Arabella—the character or the books in general—would more clearly confront the colonialism and racism of the setting over the course of the series. The first book had some confrontations with these ”isms,” in fairly constrained contexts, but our point of view character Arabella did not seem fully aware of their pervasiveness or their larger ramifications. Nor did she seem cognizant of the implications of her own life on Mars as an Englishwoman living among Martians.

In short, the Arabella of the first book was convincingly blind to problems that her privilege didn’t require her to face. Honestly, that felt very real. I think it was an understandable writing choice, and a solid one.

Crucially, this is not to say that Arabella was willfully blind or actively in denial. She set herself on the right side of those conflicts when they arose, opposing and loudly disagreeing with racist arguments. But it wasn’t clear whether the later books would also dig into the inherent colonialism of the setting.

So. I hoped, and I read into the titles of the two following books and the jacket blurb of this book (Battle of Venus), and I made some assumptions from my sense of the author. All of that, plus the tonal hints of the first book, encouraged me.

Having finished book two, it looks like I was right to be encouraged. I’m glad to say that Levine does continue to bring these issues to the fore. Problems and disagreements slowly and seamlessly bubble up into Arabella’s awareness through her immediate context. The positions Arabella takes and the solutions she finds all suggest that Levine is continuing this thread of growing Arabella’s awareness of the injustices around her, and that these things will all come to a head soon.

Now, Arabella doesn’t feel especially radical from a modern perspective. Arabella’s positions and opinions—as they’ve developed so far—don’t feel revolutionary. Except… they kind of are.

Context matters!

Arabella has a keenly felt sense of justice. She has a disregard for her society’s gender norms that is heartening to a modern reader and would probably place her at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement in her time, which was (contextually) a pretty damn radical place to be. Her opposition to racism and racist arguments is similarly steadfast, and admirably radical for the time. And that opposition extends to the casual anti-Martian & anti-Venusian racism she encounters, which I think is present to set up for her bigger and more overt confrontation with colonialism in the third book—though that’s merely genre-savvy speculation, since I haven’t read book three yet.

Basically, it looks like Levine has planned all this from the outset, just as I’d hoped. He pulled apart Arabella’s various stages of personal growth and burgeoning awareness into three books, allowing her emotional and political arc to develop across multiple perfectly solid adventure stories. If he’d tried to write this personal arc all in one go, the book would have felt congested and emotionally tumultuous—Arabella’s growth would have felt implausibly rushed and unreal. Instead, because Levine paid attention to spacing this arc out across narrative time and separate books we’re able to enjoy Arabella’s personal growth without ever choking on it.

This is another good example of the dynamic I mentioned in my reflections on Murderbot.

Given all that, I suspect that Levine will stick the landing in book three. I’ll let you know once I’ve finished it.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Like I said at the start, I’m really enjoying these books. Unless those genres I mentioned above sound like torture to you, I suspect you’ll enjoy these books too. Try them out!

Wait, one last thing. Based on his Author’s Note, David Levine finished this book while losing his wife to cancer. Finishing a book is hard enough in good times. I can only imagine that doing so (and doing it well) while experiencing that loss must be tremendously painful and difficult. David, if you read this, thank you for this story. And thank you for persevering to share it with us. May Kate Yule’s memory be a blessing and a comfort for you.

The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik

I’ve deeply enjoyed reading Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series. I’ve recommended it to many people. And now, having finished it, I’m going to recommend it to you again.

This is how I started my review for the first book in the series:

“[W]hat if Harry Potter, but the school is *literally* a death trap full of monsters and there aren’t any adults around to ‘help?’” Add some socioeconomic inequality, teen drama, a pinch of prophecy, and an antisocial and justifiably angry teen girl for a narrator, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education is like.

The Golden Enclaves delivers a solid close to that story. It is the third and final book in the series and—while the book ends with room available for more sequels if Novik changes her mind—the story is definitely concluded here in ways that will satisfy most readers. “Most,” because I know some folks will just want the story to keep going with these characters forever, which I believe is all according to plan for Novik (or at least a feature rather than a bug).

This book does what I wanted it to do. It resolves many hanging plot threads, it answers a series of questions I’d had since the first book, and—maybe most importantly—it dreams up a future in which people are able to make the world a better place, by hook or by crook. It has hope.

*That’s* the bit I’m most impressed by. That hope.

This book is full of a lot of struggle. It’s full of lots of traumatized kids. People die, or are hurt in awful ways.

But it’s hopeful. And it’s not hopeful in the Harry Potter “let’s go back to the world as it was, and pretend that without resolving any of the issues we’ve discovered everything will be fine” kind of way. It’s hopeful in the “let’s do our damndest to make the world a better place, without destroying it in the meantime” kind of way. The whole series has been hopeful like that, but this book really sticks the landing. And I love it for that.

So many YA and YA-adjacent stories are dystopian, and the resolutions to their dystopian problems rarely feel hopeful or real to me. Either the dystopian world remains awful, or the attempted fix doesn’t work, or the fix works but reeks of deus ex machina and only works because the author says it does.

Novik set up a whole bevy of problems in the first two books and made it clear that the world was an unfair and often awful place. She offered (difficult, dangerous) ways for her characters to work around those problems.And this book, like its series as a whole, manages to follow that thread through to the end without either disappointing me with a total lack of plausibility or falling into hopelessness.

Annnnnnd I hadn’t realized until now that I never reviewed The Last Graduate, the second book in this trilogy. That was an oversight. I’m not going to rectify it before I finish this post though, so here goes.

A warning: if you didn’t like El’s voice as the narrator in the first two books, this series might not be for you. Novik was extremely successful with her creation of her narrator’s voice. She does a good job of keeping everything inside El’s head, and of maintaining El’s voice as a consistent thing. Novik also manages to weave her story and world through El’s unreliability as a narrator without leaving us, her readers, totally bereft of clues that El might not be the most objective and reliable observer. I really admire that. It’s one of the things I love about these books. If that bothers you… you’re out of luck. Try a different series.

A separate warning: one of my friends mentioned El knowing or narrating a few things in this book that seemed outside of her scope of knowledge. I didn’t notice those as I was reading—I was quite caught up in the story and may have missed them. You might stub your toe on them though.

I’m not planning to dive deep into the plot of this book, but I will say that reading more will probably spoil you for the previous books with implications if nothing else. I’ll also casually drop in a few spoilers after this paragraph without further warning. If you care about that, I suggest giving the first book a go. I loved all three, I recommend them, and Novik has done a good job of starting this series as she meant to continue it. The series isn’t bereft of twists, but it’s very thematically consistent—if you like the first book you’ll probably like the rest, and vice versa.

The Golden Enclaves picks up precisely where The Last Graduate leaves off. Very precisely. And the rest of the story doesn’t honestly take all that much time as the setting reckons it. There’s a little slow period near the beginning as El tries to recover from her time in the Scholomance (more or less a machine for traumatizing children until they’ve survived hell). But after that, things move a bit faster. And they snowball wildly out of control, as El finds out what’s been going on outside the Scholomance while she and all the other kids were locked in hell.

Despite this—or actually because of it—there’s still plenty of time for Novik to ladle in several more hefty servings of revolution and commentary on inequality, until they become a driving factor of the story. That’s perfect, because it’s part of what I’m here for. She also adds more queerness, as she did in The Last Graduate, but where it felt unforced in The Last Graduate here it feels more like a surprise.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still here for it. I’m glad that Novik added more queerness, I’m glad to see it in this story. And next time I would love to see her do more of that earlier in a series. Having El find out that she’s surprise-bi in book three, however, felt a bit like a curveball given how carefully Novik sets up almost every other story element, like Novik improvised that element where she’d planned all the rest. Or maybe I was too oblivious, because one of my friends was shipping El and Chloe really hard at the end of book one.

Anyways. My words and thoughts are wandering.

If you want to read about wizard revolutions, or about magically obstinate people warping the world around them into a less destructive and more just place, this is for you.

I love this book. I love this series. I recommend them both. I hope that you enjoy them too.

p.s. my partner pointed out that I gushed more about this book in person than I did here, and I’ve made a couple edits following that. Don’t hold my gray brain weather’s bland tone against this series, I really did delight in these books, and in sharing them by reading them aloud to my partner.

Review of A Restless Truth on Geekly Inc

I’ve got another review on GeeklyInc for you, here. This one’s about A Restless Truth, sequel to A Marvellous Light, both of which I enjoyed a great deal. Spy fiction, high society drama, romance, magical intrigue… it all fits well together. I may give you more of my thoughts on the book here in the future, but for now I suggest heading over to Geekly Inc to see my words!

The tl;dr: Freya Marske does an excellent job blending sapphic romance, murder, magical society drama, and sexy times. I continue to be delighted by her blending of spy fiction and society drama, and I’m looking forward to book three!

Arabella of Mars, by David D Levine

David D. Levine’s Arabella of Mars is an excellent Age of Sail sci-fi adventure story replete with the drama of Regency-era social expectations.  It has all the requisite ingredients: imperiled family in need of aid, dangerous shipboard voyages (between planets!), subdued romance, personal rebellion, social maneuvering, and a little bit of marriage. I inhaled this book.

I read perhaps a couple pages on Thursday last week and then spent almost all of Friday devouring the rest of the story. I very wisely did not take the book to bed with me on Thursday night, for which I’m glad. I probably wouldn’t have slept much if I had. As it was, I requested the next two books as soon as I finished on Friday afternoon.

This is the kind of story that I love… and having finished it, I have some concerns. I’ll focus on the things I loved first. Just know that (depending on the course of the next two books in this series) I might have to refile this from “delicious new candy” to “problematic fave“ on account of colonialism.

Also, there are a few things that I’ll cover here which might constitute very mild spoilers. I doubt any of them would surprise someone who’s already familiar with the genres involved, but if you want to avoid spoilers entirely I recommend you skip ahead to the last paragraph.

So. First off, I love the setting.

In the late 1600s, Captain Kidd sailed to Mars. There he explored, met and befriended the bug-like locals, and ultimately sailed back home. There are now human colonies elsewhere in the solar system (including on Mars), and ships which regularly make the voyage from planet to planet across the great rivers of air in between. Clockwork exists and automata are an advanced art, and coal gases are used in great quantities to fill the lift envelopes of airships until they’ve crossed “the falling line”—the elevation high enough for a ship to sail out of a planet’s orbit. 

A quibble: I’ve seen this book called steampunk, and I don’t agree. Not yet at least. There are genre similarities, but this story is deeply rooted in the British Regency-era of the Age of Sail. Heck, it’s all set in 1812 or 1813, and the Napoleonic wars are still underway. While certain setting elements overlap with steampunk (clockwork and automata, airships, alternative versions of space) the story has more similarity to Novik’s Temeraire books and other Age of Sail adventures (e.g. C.S. Forester’s Hornblower, or O’Brian’s many naval novels). What’s more, there’s no concern with industrialization or the pressures thereof. So while there’s a little steampunk-ish set dressing, and I can understand using that as a marketing term in 2016 when this book was published, I don’t think it’s accurate.

Back to the setting! Despite the alternate history, social expectations have remained much the same. British Regency Era gender and class conventions are still potent forces, shaping our protagonist Arabella’s world(s). Her taste of something different, what with being raised on Mars by a Martian nanny with very different ideas of gender and class roles, is tantalizing. Levine establishes all of this with admirable efficacy in his quick prologue, setting the stage for the rest of the story and all the conventions that will stymie Arabella in her quest to aid her family.

Actually, I admire Levine’s writing here in general. He’s adopted a markedly period voice, straitlaced and constrained in a way that emphasizes the social restrictions and expectations without sacrificing the feel of personal insight into Arabella’s world. He’s skillful, and it shows. Even when things are predictable (in good, genre-confirming ways) they don’t feel forced.

And, maybe because of all that, this book has lots of fun (mostly quiet) social commentary going for it. Arabella’s struggles and observations around gender and class feel fitting to the genre, and give us a window into Arabella’s growth of her own perspective on what is right, proper, and moral, departing from the ”received perspective” she starts the story with. I really enjoy that growth, and it feels good to see it take place.

But I can’t mention that growth without discussing those concerns I mentioned above.

Stories in the Regency Era, and especially any kind of story involving the creation of colonies in a place with intelligent locals, will unavoidably engage with colonialism. I don’t think it’s possible to avoid in this kind of story, and pretending colonialism (and its problems) doesn’t exist is usually just a way to be an apologist for it. Fortunately, that isn’t the approach this story takes.

Okay, more implicit spoilers ahead, though they should remain pretty general.

For all that Arabella of Mars doesn’t ignore colonialism per se, it also doesn’t address it directly. Partly, I think that’s due to the narrator’s proximity to Arabella’s own perspective; there’s a lot that Arabella hasn’t examined deeply about the social order and her role in it, never mind the ways in which humans and Martians interact. There are, however, many overt hints that Arabella disagrees with or isn’t aligned with the common colonialist assumptions of her society.

This comes out in the little details: Arabella notices the ways in which English depictions of Martians are wrong, and they irk her; Arabella corrects others a number of times, and signals dissatisfaction with their racist and colonialist assumptions; and she is unwilling to embrace the racist and colonialist arguments of others even when they’re not focused on Mars and Martians. As I said, all the little hints are there.

Actually, reflecting on those little details, I wonder whether some of my enjoyment of this story is tied to similarities with how my mother spoke of her childhood in Uganda and the US.

Back to this book, Arabella’s rejection of English colonialism, or her opposition to it, isn’t fully articulated in the way that I think the setting (and the story thus far) calls for. Her own estimations of her fellow landed English gentry start mostly neutral and grow more negative. And she clearly feels more attuned to the social conventions of Martians (or even the crew she serves with) than to the conventions of her peers. But while she appears to judge the existing system as lacking and feels estranged from it, she’s still a part of it and hasn’t articulated a different position.

About par for the course in book one of a series, really. This is part of my reason for both liking the book and trying to reserve judgment.

Anyway. The story thus far feels poised to dive deeper into this struggle with colonialism. And so far, it feels like it’s aware of that. That’s all well and good. But it hasn’t (yet) made that confrontation its focus. If it doesn’t dive into that confrontation with colonialism, or at least face it along its narrative path, I’ll have to revise my opinion of the story.

So.

If you were avoiding reading the spoiler-ish above material, rest assured this is the *END OF SPOILERS*.

I like the book. I like it a lot, and absolutely recommend it to anyone who likes Age of Sail adventure with a splash of Regency drama and a hint of Jules Verne. If you want alternate history science fiction on interplanetary sailing ships, this is your best bet. And if you know a younger reader looking for these sorts of things, this is accessibly YA-ish to boot.

The Last Dreamwalker review is up!

My first review for GeeklyInc is out, and you can read it here! Enjoy.