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Starcross

Style: Good

Attitude: Unobjectionable → Positive

In Brief: Imaginative cybersteam adventure story. Slightly less pacy than the original. All manner of heroism, bravery, self-sacrifice, humour, and gentle romance.

Cover of Starcross

Author: Philip Reeve

Series: Larklight

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published in: 2007

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Mid 19th C

Setting: Starcross, an asteroid off the coast of Mars

Genres:  AdventureFantasyGrowing-UpHumorousRomantic


Characters:

  • Art Mumby is the first-person narrator, a devotee of adventure stories, and unable to comprehend how anyone could fall in love with his sister.
  • Myrtle is struggling with the attraction of young pirate Jack Havock, the demands of ladylike deportment, and a new-found ability to perform the Alchemical Wedding.
  • Jack Havock and his friends are working for the British Secret Service to uncover the mysterious disappearance of Sir Richard Burton at the luxury hotel Starcross.
  • Sir Launcelot Sprigg is having another go at galactic domination, this time assisted as he thinks by Moobs, dream-leeches from the far future.

Synopsis:

Art, Myrtle and Mrs Mumby visit the new Starcross hotel on an asteroid near Mars only to discover that a more sinister scheme is afoot, involving mind-controlling top hats, a time-travelling ship from the American War of Independence, and a set of French Secret Agents. All this is being orchestrated by the Moobs, a sort of mind-leech from the far future of the universe who have found their way back in time to sustain themselves on the hopes and dreams of 19th century space-travellers.

Notes:

Starcross is almost as funny, almost as inventive, almost as pacy, almost as touching as Larklight, first in this series by Mortal Engines creator Philip Reeve. But only almost. I enjoyed it almost as much, but it suffers from sequel-malaise. In the first episode, there's everything to learn, everything's new and exciting and the quirks of each character and their relationships together have all to be told. In a sequel you need something to take the place of all that novelty on top of a story at least as good. And Starcross just fails to deliver in both areas.

The first story saw us careening across the Solar System in pursuit of dastardly Arachnids. This story is based almost entirely around a hotel and we're dealing with the faintly boring Moobs, which feel rather like something out of Finn Family Moomintroll. There is action, including a classic western-style railway track chase with one of those push-pull cars being chased by a steam train. There's a spaceship chase to prevent the Moob-controlled top hats from making it to civilisation. And there's a fight onboard ship as the rescuers attempt to free their unknowing comrades from the control of their top hats. But the final backs-to-the-wall battle as the rescuers prepare to storm the hotel fizzles out too soon, and they find that the problem has been solved in their absence a little too easily.

Still, there's the same gentle romance between Myrtle and Jack (including her envy as he seems attracted to the young Frenchwoman Delphine). There are the boyish asides of Art (“The book was How to Write Love Letters: A Guide for the Perplexed, by A Lady which seems an odd volume for a pirate and spy to keep aboard his ship. No doubt Jack had been using it to prop up a wobbly table.”) and the ribbing his sister gives him. There are the same delightful illustrations throughout, plus new advertisements on the endpages.

All in all, a great book to read, in spite of a slight disappointment. I'm looking forward to further adventures.

Themes:

  • The dangers of sentient headgear

“The train!” said Mrs Spinnaker. “They're coming after us!”

“We're done for!” I said despondently. “Now I shall never save Mother, nor find out what has become of poor Myrtle...”

Then it was time for Mrs Spinnaker to raise my spirits, which she did by directing me to take my place again at the handle. “How fast can we make this contraption go?” she wondered. “Pretty fast, I reckon. Faster than that train? Well, maybe. And let's 'ave a song to cheer us on our way; those Moobs won't be singing, and perhaps that's how we'll best 'em, eh, Art?”

And so we sang. We sang 'My Flat Cat' and 'Nobby Knocker's Noggin'. We sang 'Tom O'Bedlam' and 'Ganymede Fair'. We sang and pumped, and pumped and sang, and our wet clothes steamed, filling the cabin with a smell of damp serge while the asteroids and spacial reefs turned to the merest blur beyond our windows.

What a race that was! The hand-car had no speedometer, so I cannot be sure, but I am willing to wager that it was moving faster than any hand-car has in the whole history of the Solar Realms, or ever shall!

Saturday 27th October 2007