Arabella and the Battle of Venus (Adventures of Arabella Ashby #2)
By: David D. Levine
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: July 18th, 2017
The thrilling adventures of Arabella Ashby continue in the second book in Hugo-winning author David D. Levine’s swashbuckling sci-fi, alt-history series!
The swashbuckling Arabella Ashby is back for brand new adventure in the ongoing story of her life among the stars.
Arabella’s wedding plans to marry Captain Singh of the Honorable Mars Trading Company are interrupted when her fiancé is captured by the French and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on swampy Venus. Now, Arabella must find passage to an enemy-controlled planet in the middle of a war, bribe or fight her way past vicious guards, and rescue her Captain.
To do this she must enlist the help of the dashing privateer, Daniel Fox of the Touchstone and build her own clockwork navigational automaton in order to get to Venus before the dread French general, Joseph Fouché, the Executioner of Lyon.
Once on Venus, Arabella, Singh, and Fox soon discover that Napoleon has designed a secret weapon, one that could subjugate the entire galaxy if they can’t discover a way to stop Fouché, and the entire French army, from completing their emperor’s mandate.
“Good morning, Lady Corey!” Michael cried, rising with as much grace as he could muster. “Thank you so very much for joining us on such short notice.” The Sun shone brightly on the best silver tea- service, tidily arrayed on the sitting- room table. All the finest had been brought out for the great lady’s visit.
Arabella curtseyed, fighting to keep a pleasant expression despite the tightness of her jaw. It was already a day later than she had hoped to depart for Venus, never mind the additional days which would likely be lost in preparations if Lady Corey were to accompany her.
Lady Corey accepted Michael’s proffered hand and, with his help, seated herself upon the settee. “It is no trouble at all, Mr. Ashby. It is always a plea sure to visit with you.”
Lady Corey had always reminded Arabella of a ship of the sea, with her generous bosom and plump arms swelling like sails before the press of wind. Her age was something over forty— ancient to Arabella— and her hands were soft and pale. She wore a round robe of fine iron-gray cloth, trimmed with chenille fur and clasped with lozenge clasps of jet. Her ear rings and necklace were also of jet, emphasizing her continued state of mourning, her beloved Lord Corey having been crushed by a Martian catapult- stone less than a year earlier.
All in all, Arabella thought, Lady Corey was like a beautiful, expensive, stifling cloak which Michael intended to throw over her, when what she truly required was a thukhong— a rough, practical garment in which she could move, run, and fight.
They spoke for a time of the weather and other inconsequentialities— with Arabella fidgeting impatiently— before Michael finally broached the topic of his invitation. “As you know,” he said, “Arabella lacks any female relatives on Mars.”
“This may explain her questionable choice of fiancé.” Her expression, still pleasant, nonetheless betrayed her distaste at Arabella’s near- scandalous behavior.
Arabella opened her mouth to defend Captain Singh, but Michael interrupted. “She plans a journey,” he said quickly, “in the very near future, and we were hoping that you might be willing to accompany her as chaperone.”
At that Lady Corey’s round, pink face brightened, and Arabella’s hopes declined correspondingly. “A journey? How delightful. My daughter has been encouraging me to get away from town, with all its unpleasant memories. I would be delighted to accompany dear Arabella . . . once my responsibilities here have been discharged, of course.” Arabella’s spirits fell still further. “Where might she like to go?”
Arabella cleared her throat, forcing Lady Corey to meet her eye. “Venus is my destination,” she enunciated clearly.
“Oh,” the great lady replied, recoiling slightly. “Are you certain? If you wish a holiday, I understand the sand- falls at Sor Khoresh”— unlike many Englishmen, she managed the kh in Khoresh quite creditably— “are lovely at this time of year.” “
I have important business there.”
Lady Corey’s glance flicked from Arabella’s face to Michael’s and back. “Really, I cannot imagine why any well- bred young woman should want to visit such an . . . uncivilized place as Venus. Surely it has nothing to offer in the way of entertainments.”
“I have no idea,” she replied honestly, then realized this question presented an opportunity. “Perhaps my old itkhalya Khema can offer some suggestions.” Immediately she rose and tugged the bell- pull, ignoring Michael’s puzzled expression.
Conversation continued, somewhat strained, until Khema arrived. Arabella hid her nervous ness by buttering her crumpet. “Ah, Lady Corey!” Khema said as she entered, ducking and turning sideways to fit through the sitting- room door. “So delightful to see you again!”
Though her command of the English language was impeccable and her manners unimpeachable, Khema was nonetheless quite an intimidating sight. During the recent insurrection she had transformed into an akhmok— a sort of natural general— and now loomed nearly eight feet high and almost half that broad, with spiny protrusions at every joint. Yet, despite her bulk, her movements were so fluid and graceful that her curtsey was neither laughable nor intimidating.
At least, it was not intimidating to Arabella or any other member of the Ashby house hold. Yet Lady Corey, Arabella was certain, would find Khema’s appearance distressing; her reactions would demonstrate to Michael how inappropriate it would be to encumber Arabella with her as chaperone for the voyage.
“We were wondering,” Arabella said brightly, “if you could recommend any leisure activities on the planet Venus.” She rose and stood at Khema’s shoulder, gesturing to Lady Corey. “Lady Corey will be accompanying me there as chaperone.” She took a small step forward, deliberately approaching Khema slightly closer than Martian etiquette permitted.
Unconsciously Khema edged away from her, taking a step toward Lady Corey. The hard carapace of her foot thudded heavi ly on the carpet. “I have never visited that planet myself.” Again Arabella eased forward, forcing Khema still closer to Lady Corey. “But my cousin Sutkheth has traveled there several times, and she speaks very highly of the water gardens of Munungulawala and the hot baths at Gonuwamanaga.” Another step. “And, of course, Venusian cuisine is renowned throughout the solar system.” By now Khema loomed directly above Lady Corey, the spines of her pectoral plates practically pricking the great lady’s cheeks.
“Do tell us more of that cuisine,” Arabella said.
Khema turned slightly toward Arabella, her eye- stalks rising in an expression of uncertainty. “It may be . . . a bit beyond the English palate.”
Arabella returned Khema’s expression with a significant lift of her eyebrows and a gesture in Lady Corey’s direction. “Please do. I am certain it will make a great impression.”
Khema considered this for a moment, then pulled her eye- stalks back slightly— a subtle Martian gesture of understanding and acknowledgement, which Arabella knew well— then leaned over Lady Corey and began to describe the finest delicacies of Venusian cookery with great enthusiasm and many details, smacking her mandibles with relish as she described its tentacular and blubbery delights.
But Lady Corey’s reaction to this recitation was not at all what Arabella had anticipated. She seemed undeterred, in fact enthusiastic, and her expression, rather than showing disquiet at Khema’s proximity, was one of interest and delight. The great lady and Khema were soon comparing Venusian to Martian vintages and spices, even discussing famous Martian chefs de cuisine of their acquaintance.
“You must understand,” Lady Corey explained to Arabella’s astonished expression, “that I came to Mars as a very young girl, back in George the Second’s day. In those days there was very little in the way of proper English cookery to be had; we all dined à la Martien, as we said, at nearly every meal. Not like to- day, when any family of any standing whatsoever employs an entire kitchen staff imported from London, and even the servants dine on beef and onions. However”— here she leaned in over her tea and scones and confided in a low voice— “I must confess that I still relish a nice sukuresh gonash. It reminds me of my younger days.”
“How fascinating,” Arabella replied, quite taken aback.
“This has been a delightful conversation,” Michael put in then, “but I am certain that Khema has other duties to attend to.” At this, Khema curtseyed and departed.
Once Khema had gone, Lady Corey turned to Michael. “If you will, my dear sir, I would like a private word with your sister.” She favored him with a demure smile. “If I am to serve as her chaperone, we must be permitted a few . . . female confidences.”
“By all means,” Michael replied, and with as deep and respectful a bow as could be managed with a crutch, he too took his leave.
As soon as the door had closed behind him, Lady Corey’s expression hardened. “Do not think,” she said to Arabella in a low intense voice, “that I do not comprehend your precise intent in calling your itkhalya into this room.”
“I am certain I do not—”
“Do not be coy with me,” Lady Corey interrupted, straightening, and Arabella found her mouth shutting as though moved by clockwork. “Your intention was to intimidate me, and I must confess that for a time I was nearly intimidated.” She closed her eyes. “Though it has been nearly a year, the memories of my dear Lord Corey’s death are still painful.” She seemed to draw herself together then, and when her eyes reopened they were hard and gray and sharp as best Martian steel. “But I have lived among Martians all my life, and seen many a rebellion and uprising before last year— they were quite common when Cornwallis, rest his soul, was Governor- General— and it will take more than an akhmok to bullyrag me.”
“I . . . I beg your pardon, Lady Corey,” Arabella stammered, completely nonplussed.
Lady Corey’s mien softened then, and she patted the sofa beside herself. Almost against her will, Arabella shifted to the indicated spot. “I am well aware, my dear Miss Ashby, of your reputation for in dependence and temerity. It has served you in good stead so far, and you have achieved much. It could even be said that I, and many other members of our house hold, owe you our lives. But if you are indeed to marry— and I would counsel you to give the matter much greater consideration than you have as yet demonstrated— you must enter into society. This requires an entirely different set of capabilities from those you have hitherto displayed.”
“I thank you for your counsel,” Arabella replied, attempting to regain control of the conversation, “but my immediate concern is to attain my fiancé’s release from Napoleon’s custody, and for this task I am certain that in dependence and temerity are the very qualities which are required.”
“Indeed,” the great lady replied non committally, her eyes hooded. “However, a genteel lady never forgets the social graces, no matter the circumstances”— she flicked her fan sharply to emphasize each word— “and in this area I fear your deportment is sadly lacking.”
“I fail to see how the ‘social graces’ can bring about my fiancé’s freedom.”
“Poor behavior reflects ill upon one’s family and upon one’s station in life. Without family and station, one lacks influence. And without influence, little of consequence can be accomplished.” She leaned forward, her expression firm. “You lack judgment, and have been suffered to govern yourself by whim rather than by any rational consideration of right or consequence. This cannot be allowed to continue.”
The two women’s eyes locked for a long, contentious moment, which was broken by Lady Corey drawing a breath and reaching for her tea- cup. “In any case,” she said, “propriety demands that you be chaperoned, and so a chaperone you must have. And in that capacity, as your brother has requested, I will happily serve. Though you sometimes strike me as incapable of improvement, I feel honor- bound to make the attempt.”
A sharp retort rose to Arabella’s lips, but she held it back. She would accept Lady Corey as chaperone, she decided, in order to mollify her brother. And she would escape her strictures as soon as she could, as she had done with her mother. This was a game she could win.
“I look forward to sharing your company,” Arabella said mildly, and raised her own tea- cup in salute.
“As do I.” Lady Corey sipped her tea. “You require looking after, my dear, and I believe I am just the one to do it . . . and give you a proper education in the womanly arts into the bargain.”
Suddenly Arabella wondered if she herself had just been maneuvered into an unfavorable position.
Copyright 2017 by David D. Levine
It is hard to follow up a novel such as Arabella of Mars, a tour de force of Victorian steam punk space opera with a bit of romance and breaking of societal rules, but Arabella and the Battle of Venus not only matches the action and ingenuity of its predecessor but also manages to hold its own. After her previous adventures of preventing war on Mars and masquerading as a boy to get there, Arabella is now awaiting her marriage to Captain Singh. However, her plans are waylaid when word that her fiancé has been captured by the French and is a prisoner on Venus. Naturally, Arabella undertakes the task of rescuing him, though this time, unable to resurrect her disguise of a boy, she brings along the Lady Corey as a chaperone.
In this sequel, a lot of familiar faces return and are mixed in with the new. The crew of the Diana is present and is joined by the Touchstone, the privateer that Arabella hires, and its crew. Mixed in to this wonderfully drawn cast are a very real threat as Napoleon and his wars, and the conquests that inspired them, have been remade to fit Arabella’s world of a Victorian space age. Filled with subterfuge on several levels and carefully laid plans, our heroine navigates a story that doesn’t go smoothly in her attempt to free her beloved and his crew.
Still maintaining the humor and level of action of Mars, this addition is a tad darker, maybe because the enemy here is all the more real. Battle of Venus has the same abrupt, but happy, ending as you may have come to expect, with the reader hoping to turn the page and find another chapter, but I wasn’t left disappointed. I am left looking forward to more of Arabella’s adventures with her Captain Singh by her side.
David D. Levine is the multi-award-winning author of the Regency interplanetary airship adventure novel Arabella of Mars (Tor 2016), sequel Arabella and the Battle of Venus (Tor 2017), and more than fifty science fiction and fantasy stories. Arabella of Mars won the 2017 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, his story “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, his story “Nucleon” won the James White Award, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, Sturgeon, and Locus. His stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, Tor.com, numerous anthologies and websites, and multiple Year’s Best anthologies, as well as his collection Space Magic from Wheatland Press, which won the Endeavour Award for the best SF or Fantasy book by a Pacific Northwest writer.
David is a contributor to George R. R. Martin’s bestselling shared-world series Wild Cards. He is also a member of Book View Cafe, a writer-owned publishing cooperative, and Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc., a non-profit organization which produces OryCon and other SF conventions. He has narrated podcasts for Escape Pod, PodCastle, and StarShipSofa and the audiobook of Space Magic, and his video production “Dr. Talon’s Letter to the Editor” was a finalist for the Parsec Award. In 2010 he spent two weeks at the Mars Desert Research Station, a simulated Mars base in the Utah desert.
David lives in a hundred-year-old bungalow in Portland, Oregon. His web site can be found at www.daviddlevine.com.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. The author info, image, giveaway, and more were provided by Jean Book Nerd Tours. Neither belong to us An advanced copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.