Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mom As Powerful Immortal

What better time then Mother's Day to discuss a book in which a pivotal figure is a go-to Mom who really can fix, if not everything, a whole lot?

Mothstream by Philip Reeve with illustrations by David Wyatt is the third in the Larklight series. This series is particularly notable, I think, because its third book is as good as its first. Reeve isn't running out of ideas or humor.

When I read Starcross, the second Larklight book, I wondered if kids would get the humor. (I know, I know. I'm always wondering about that.) I think that Mothstorm may actually be more accessible to young readers. If so, that may be because of all the focus on Mother.

In the Larklight series, Art and Myrtle's mother is some kind of immortal being who has created the life forms across our universe and lived for millions of years in various of her creations' bodies. She has now chosen to become a human woman, a wife, and a mother. She has done this in an alternative Victorian world in which the British Empire has extended into space by way of ships that look a whole lot like the ones used to maintain that empire in the world we know.

When Her Majesty's holdings are threatened by another immortal being very much like Mother but nowhere near as ladylike, her kids, Art and Myrtle, turn to dear old Mum for the wherewithall to once again save the day.

Mothstorm is very much a female-oriented book. You have a heroic mother/creator. You have an evil female antagonist who has enslaved a race of women warriors. You have the scrappy daughter of a missionary. You have a youngish (and inept) Queen Victoria. And you have Myrtle, that wonderful, walking stereotype of a nineteenth century British young lady who has a clever and extremely funny storyline this time around.

Art and Myrtle looking for Mother, hoping to save Mother, and relying on Mother gives this book something that kids can follow and want to pursue, whether or not they get every nineteenth century joke.

Mothstorm was published back in 2008. I'm not aware of its receiving the same kind of buzz the first book in the series did. I hope people aren't losing interest or simply not noticing another Larklight book.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Steampunk For Kiddies

I was a big fan of Larklight by Philip Reeve. Starcross, the second in the Larklight series (the third book, Mothstorm, will be published in November) is just as entertaining--at least, for those of us with the background to enjoy the sly, understated humor.

The Larklight books are examples of steampunk, science fiction or fantasy set in alternative nineteenth century worlds before the advent of gas-powered engines and electricity. Reeve, in the case of his Larklight books at least, doesn't take the subgenre too seriously. These books are takeoffs on every nineteenth century British stereotype I've ever heard of and probably a great many I've never known. Swooning young women, boys' adventure stories, retired military figures, drawing room gatherings, empirial attitudes...the list goes on and on.

The basic storyline for Starcross made me think of something you might have seen in an episode of classic Star Trek (not that there's anything wrong with that): While gathered at a resort (think of one of those planets where the Enterprise crew liked to go for rest and recreation) Art and Myrtle Mumby, those classic siblings from the first Larklight book, encounter thought-sucking creatures from the future intent on dominating the British Empire, (the equivalent of the Federation) and only our strapping young boy hero and his ethnically diverse friends (like the crew of a Star Trek away mission) can save the homeworld and her possessions, which stretch out across space. There is also a threat from France in the form of a French secret agent. (Sort of like a Romulan spy.)

I love these books but with Starcross, even more than with Larklight, I wonder about the audience. The writing style is a little on the elaborate side, as one would expect from a nineteenth century novel or memoir. A lot of the humor is very subtle and dependent on at least a superficial knowledge of British history. I've read complaints from adult readers of Larklight about sexism and ethnic stereotyping (to the extent that you can have ethnic stereotyping when you're talking about races that don't really exist), meaning that those grown-ups didn't get the jokes.

How do the middle grade readers the book design suggests these books are marketed to feel about them? Will the YA readers who are more likely to have the historical background to enable them to enjoy them find these books?


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Still Here

The Cybils site hasn't gone into hibernation during this non-nominating, non-reading period. In fact, a new interview with Sylvia Long, author of the non-fiction winner An Egg Is Quiet, has just been posted.

And speaking of all things Cybil, Confessions of a Bibliovore recently reviewed one of my favorite nominees, Larklight.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Larklight Readings

I was a big fan of Larklight when I read it last winter. (I have another Philip Reeve book waiting for me upstairs in my library stack.) J. L. Bell at Oz and Ends has two hefty posts on the book.