Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Review of Mothstorm by Philip Reeve

I wonder if I can typeset the title of Philip Reeve's third book in this steampunk series correctly. Yes, it's Mothstorm: The Horror from Beyond Uranus Georgium Sidus. When your older sister is a proper Victorian lady—or likes to think she is—she will surely be unwilling to use the term “Uranus,” even if she is running the engineering room of your spaceship.

Reeve is probably best known as the author of The Hungry City Chronicles, a dystopian sci-fi series for teens in which Earth’s cities roll around on ginormous tractor feet devouring smaller cities. His more recent book, Here Lies Arthur, casts a cynical eye on Arthurian legend and is a Carnegie Medal winner.

Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space, Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel, and Curious Hats, and now Mothstorm, are positively rollicking in comparison to Reeve’s work for older readers. Reeve, surely one of today’s most innovative children's book writers, has imagined a world in which stoic British children ride spaceships and encounter B-movie aliens in the skies over Victorian England. (Mere matters like how to breathe are blithely set aside, just so you know.) Within this context, Reeve has a great deal of fun, throwing in icthyomorphs of the high aether (space fish) as well as pigheaded bureaucrats, old salts and helpful aliens of various kinds. There are a lot of muttonchop sideburns and elegant moustaches in these books—the latter so elegant, in fact, that the twirling ends of one such moustache are supported by small helium balloons. Which should give you an idea about the writer's sense of humor.

Reeve casually makes the children’s mother a Shaper, essentially a goddess. And while the setup is wonderful, the best thing about Mothstorm and its predecessors is those children, Art (Arthur) and his older sister, Myrtle. Art recounts most of their adventures, but occasionally throws in a chapter by his sister. So you get, for example, “Chapter Eighteen: In Which I, Miss Myrtle Evangeline Mumby, Shall Take Up the Reins of This Narrative, Since Art Was Too Affected by the Sad News I Brought from Mothstorm to Observe Anything Which Happened During Our Voyage to Mercury,” and then you come to “The Real Chapter Eighteen: Our Voyage to the Tin Moon, as Told by Art Mumby, with None of the Slushy Bits.” I should note that Myrtle is much inspired by Miss Whipham's A Young Lady's Primer, while Art draws courage from The Boys Own Journal. He explains at one point, "Remember, Charity, we are British, and there is nothing that good old British Pluck cannot accomplish!"

As in the first two books, the intrepid Jack Havock plays a part—think Indiana Jones, only a teenage boy with a somewhat begrudging crush on Myrtle. Most of Art’s dreaded “slushy bits” have to do with Jack and Myrtle’s romance, which is usually interrupted by a battle or the need to rescue people.


Mothstorm recounts the story of a mysterious cloud appearing out by Uranus (AKA Georgium Sidus). The two known colonizers of that planet, a missionary named Cruet and his daughter Charity, have sent a warning message and then lost contact with the rest of the British space empire. Art and his family soon set out to discover what has happened to the Cruets, and they find themselves at war with a new alien invasion, one specifically targeting their mother and her work.

Philip Reeve wraps up so many ongoing plot threads here that I can’t help wondering if the series is finished. We even get to meet Queen Victoria herself, although that stately woman nearly foils Art’s attempt to save the world while she is suspended upside down from her own Christmas tree. Which reminds me—I forgot to mention the holiday setting of this third book. A few pages into Mothstorm, you’ll know you’re in for a good time when Mr. Mumby whispers, “Thank Heaven you’ve arrived! A most vexing thing has happened. The Pudding has gone Rogue!”

4 comments:

charlotteslibrary said...

That is funny, about the pudding! It sounds like a Glenn Baxter cartoon. I've never read anything at all by Reeve, and I'm thinking I should...

KATE COOMBS said...

Whereas I have never seen a Glenn Baxter cartoon--I'll have to google him!

charlotteslibrary said...

whoops--only one "L" in his Glen...

here's a link to his website: http://www.glenbaxter.com/

KATE COOMBS said...

Thanks--I see what you mean. I love how Glen ("one N") Baxter juxtaposes things that wouldn't ordinarily go together!