Many thanks to my love for discovering this book, which Lightning Bolt and I listened to in the car.
Larklight by Phillip Reeve. Read by Greg Steinbruner. Larklight is set in an alternate Victorian world, where the British Empire spans the solar system. Our narrator, Art Mumby (eleven or so, I’d guess), and his proper teen-aged sister Myrtle live in an ancient and remote manor house, Larklight, that orbits the earth past the moon. When their home is attacked by giant white spiders, Art and Myrtle escape to the moon, where they are rescued from the fearsome wildlife there by the young pirate Jack Havock. Art, Myrtle, Jack Havock and his crew of aliens then embark on a quest to save the solar system. I found a whole lot to like about this book. There is the wonderful Victorian-flavored prose, with both the floweriness and schoolboy slang. As part of this, the wooden ether ships are powered by the alchemical wedding which naturally occurs not in an engine room but in a wedding chamber. Many of the characters are archetypes twisted just enough to be self-aware – the Plucky British Schoolboy, the Very Proper Young Lady in Search of Love, and the Pirate with the Heart of Gold. Despite the unreality of wildlife that can survive in the ether and on the moon, the vast distances of the solar system seem much more accurately represented here than in much of sci-fi: Mars is the farthest regular British outpost. There are aliens and a few humans on the moons of Jupiter, but Saturn is farther than humans have ever managed to go. I really enjoyed Steinbruner’s reading of the text, his British accents as Art appropriately youthful and plucky, but the print book is also lovingly illustrated, so you can take your pick. My library has this shelved in teen, but I can’t see why – it seems more appropriate for children’s fiction. If you love this (and why wouldn’t you?) there are two more books in the series.