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Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space

Review

Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space

written by Philip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt

Art and his sister Myrtle live with their father in Larklight, a rambling house that orbits the Earth. Since the death of their mother, they have been isolated with no other company than the icthyomorphs (space fish) their father studies and the occasional supply launch. Art longs for adventure, while Myrtle wants to make her debut into society. When their father is captured by an invasion of giant spiders, the two escape in a lifeboat and are launched into an interplanetary adventure across the solar system. 

Rescued by the notorious pirate Captain Jack Havrock and his crew of unusual alien specimens, Art and Myrtle find themselves the targets of more than one kind of danger. Besides the giant spiders that continue to pursue them, there are alien life forms, such as the Potter Moth on the dark side of the moon that seals live prey into jars as food for its larvae, and the Changeling Trees on Venus that release spoors every 50 years turning people into trees. Art finds his adventure and Myrtle finds society, but not necessarily the polite society for which she had wished. 

The story is set in a Victorian alternate-universe in which the British Navy sails the seas of aether that surround the planets and support ocean-like life forms. The British Empire does not only contain outposts on earth, it has colonies on Venus and Mars and many of Jupiter's moons. There are friendly colonized alien races, most of which are humanoid with unusual skin coloration (Martians) or extra appendages (like the extra-armed Ionians.) For a solar system teeming with diverse life forms, there is a noticeable absence of politics. Philip Reeve's story sticks with a simplistic Rule Brittania model that pits the British Empire against the previously unknown spider civilization. LARKLIGHT doesn't acknowledge the more controversial politics of colonization and class system. You'd think at the very least that there would be a Martian or Ionian who, resentful of colonization, might collaborate with the spiders in their attempt to destroy the Empire. 

But Reeve's tone is as Victorian as his setting. Any criticisms of the era he reserves for the scientists at the Royal Xenological Institute who study and dissect life forms found throughout the universe. The non-humanoid characters in the book are all escapees of the Institute, including a set of telepathic twins that look like color-changing sea anemones, and the gracious Ssilissa, a lizard-like creature whose yearnings for society and silk gowns more poignantly mirror Myrtle's. In an entire solar system, Ssilissa is the only one of her kind. It is one of the scientists who ends up being a traitor; obsessed with the spider civilization, he collaborates with them in order to study them more closely. 

LARKLIGHT is narrated by Art, with occasional diary entries from Myrtle. Its Victorian stylings might be difficult for less experienced readers to grasp, but the amazing illustrations that accompany the text make Reeve's fantastic universe more accessible and easier to imagine. Readers will delight in nuanced references to bodily functions (such as the gas-propelled Hoover Hogs), and the inclusive narrative voice makes it ideal for reading aloud. Whatever its shortcomings, LARKLIGHT is uniquely original and full of lovable characters. It is likely to be the first in a series that takes children's fantasy and launches it into the stars.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on September 19, 2006

Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space
written by Philip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt

  • Publication Date: September 19, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
  • ISBN-10: 1599900203
  • ISBN-13: 9781599900209