Larklight, by Philip Reeve; Bloomsbury
Children’s Books: New York, 2006; $16.95
Eleven-year-old Arthur Mumby, his sister Myrtle, and his dad live on an old spaceship called Larklight—until it is attacked by giant spiders. Larklight is an excellent book because you are never bored. Arthur and Myrtle encounter a new adventure at every turn, like being hunted by a huge baby moth or visiting a talking thunderstorm, but it isn’t hard to keep track of what’s going on. In Larklight, there are many beautiful illustrations of scenes and characters, brightening our understanding of what’s going on, but also taking away a little from our ability to imagine it. The cast of characters is memorable enough that you don’t need the illustrations.
Larklight is told from the perspective of Arthur Mumby, an eleven-year-old not unlike me. As I read, I felt sympathy for Arthur, who was surrounded by people/creatures older than him, and enchanted by how he dealt with it. He manages to make friends in the foulest of situations. Some of Arthur’s new companions are other than human—such as Ssilissa the lizard being or Nipper the land crab—but I sympathized with them too. They were all very real people—for example Ssilissa is a tomboy but wants to be treated more like a girl—even if they did not seem that way at first.
After escaping from their distressed ship, Arthur and Myrtle meet the notorious space pirate, Jack Havock, who is about as old as Myrtle. They take up residence in his ship and work for him as ship cleaners, as his boat, the Sophronia, is very dirty. Soon we learn that Jack and his inhuman crew escaped from the Royal Xenological Institute (which studies aliens) and, since they had no money, became pirates. Jack’s parents “died” of a horrible disease originating on Venus called Venusian Tree Sickness, which turns whoever catches it into a tree. As Arthur and Myrtle’s mom was believed to have been murdered a few years ago and their dad was seemingly killed by the giant spiders, they empathize with Jack, and befriend him.
I think it’s interesting that Larklight is set in the 1850s, as most books today are set in the present or in the future. This was especially intriguing because Larklight is about futuristic things, like space travel. In addition, since Larklight is set in the 1850s, the language used in the book is slightly different from modern English. This slightly hinders your ability to understand it, but once you figure out what the words or phrases you don’t understand mean, it is fascinating to compare modern English with that used in an earlier time.
My favorite part of the book was when the spiders were defeated. As Myrtle and Jack hug and kiss each other, Arthur writes, “It is one thing to write of giant spiders and man-eating moths, but there are some sights too stomach-turning for even the bravest British boy to contemplate, and the soppy way Jack and my sister ran to cuddle and kiss each other is one of ’em.” That is my favorite part because I identify with Arthur (I don’t like soppy scenes in movies) and also because I enjoy humor (the picture shows Myrtle and Jack hugging and Arthur covering his eyes but peeking out just a little).
If you read this book, I hope you like it as much as I did!