Starcross: An Intergalactic Adventure of Spies and Time Travel
by Philip Reeve
Cover Artist: David Wyatt
Review by Colleen Cahill
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781599901213
Date: 16 October 2007 List Price $16.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve brought us a thrilling epic of post-apocalyptic fiction, written for young adults but also good for more mature readers. In Starcross, he again delves into sub-genre, this time steampunk, with a story loaded with secret agents, time travel and wonderful British wit. A sequel to Larklight, this preteen book is also a page-turner for older readers, as we follow the continuing adventures of Arthur Mumby and his sister Myrtle through a nineteenth-century space and spy romp.
The invitation to visit the Grand Hotel Starcross, a new resort in the Asteroid Belt, arrived just in time. What with the Mumby home being redecorated and Myrtle's woes over the lack of communication from space pirate Jack Havock, life is not happy at Larklight. So Art and Myrtle's mother takes them for a change of scenery and a bit of sea-bathing. When the trio arrives at Starcross, they are charmed by the fine hotel and are soon exploring the beach where the tide comes in through a time anomaly. The rest of the guests at the hotel seem fairly average, except for a Miss Delphine Beauregard who is confined to a chair, but seems to get around quite a bit better than she should. Myrtle is thunderstuck when she realizes that the Indian Prince is actually Jack Havock in disguise! Jack soon reveals that all is not well at Starcross. Two members of her Majesty's Secret Service have disappeared and there are other unaccountable happenings, many focusing on Mortimer Titfer: the proprietor of Starcross is also the owner of "Titfer's top-notch toppers", a hat maker who claims to be the best but no one has ever heard of before. These dark hints lead to a deeper mystery and a threat that could topple not only the British Empire, but lead to the enslavement of all humanity.
This is a delightful work, full of wonderful adventure and lots of humor. The Victorian background plays well against the Jules Verne-like technology, all giving an atmosphere of graciousness. Even this setting of refinement, however, cannot dull the struggles between a mischievous brother and trying-to-be-proper sister as they holiday with their mother, a creature who is over four-and-a-half-thousand-million-years-old. While there is definitely a thread of silliness through the book, Reeve does not stint on the intrigue, as Art and Myrtle unravel the puzzle of Mr. Titfer's Toppers. Some of the scenes are down right scary, as when Secret Agents Sir Richard and Mrs. Ulla Burton are chased by an evil Punch and Judy booth that transforms the hapless couple into trees. There is an eeriness through that keeps the reader on their toes.
This is a fun book and while it is aimed at preteens, an adult reader who has a background in nineteenth century British history get more of the atmosphere and jokes in this work. You need not read the first book, Larklight, to follow this story, but I bet you will want to afterwards. A jolly book for those of any age, Starcross is a great way to introduce someone to steampunk and the splendid writing of Philip Reeve.