I loved David Levine’s “Arabella and the Battle of Venus,” the remarkable second book in Levine’s alternate-history airpunk series. This is a fully realized alternative history, in which 18th century customs, language, and naval warfare are adopted to a reality. Naval airships sail through space currents and the old battles for control of the seas, while continents battle for control of space and planets. “The Battle of Venus” matches the first book every step of the way.
In Arabella’s universe, Earth is not the only habitable planet. Mars and Venus possess their own atmosphere and ecologies. Space itself is navigable by sailing the wind currents that pass through the solar system. Aeronauts travel these currents on wooden ships made from trees that grows on Mars. Arabella grew up on Mars, with its own indigenous people, which is where we left her at the conclusion of the events in the first book, “Arabella of Mars.”
In the second book’s opening pages, Arabella learns that her fiance, Captain Prakash Singh, commander of the Honorable Mars Company airship “Diana,” has been captured by a French aerial man-of-war and held prisoner on Venus. Arabella quickly deduces that her husband is in mortal danger. The barbaric French commander Foucher is on his way to Venus to take control of the prisoners.
The British command are reluctant to take immediate action. The clever and confident heroine devises her own plan to get to Venus and somehow rescue her husband from the French. Naturally, that plan doesn’t quite follow itself, and Arabella herself is captured. Along the way she will discover that the French have secrets hidden away in the Venusian jungles. It will require Arabella’s cleverness and cunning – and the talents of her husband and many other characters – to effect an escape from Venus.
The joy is in the details of the language and inventiveness of incidents that Levine piles upon each other. Levine nearly convinced me that this fantastic world is true history. He introduces many notable new characters, especially Commander Daniel Fox, whose personal recklessness contrasts with his charisma and his ability to command a vessel
There’s a great deal of aerial terminology that adds a flair of realism to Levin’s preposterous and joyful creation. The debates over air speeds, calculations, ballast, and burn rates are fun. This rich, joyful novel of action, espionage, and fascinating characters is completely its own thing. It’s a series to get lost in. More, please.