A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space

by Philip Reeve

Publishing Information: Bloomsbury: New York, 2006
ISBN: 1599900203
Pages: 400 p.
Ages: 10 & Up

Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping man a cannon aboard Jack Havock's brig Sophroma, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began. -- opening line of Larklight

It is the middle of the 19th century. In an alternate universe, the Victorians have achieved space travel, and rule over the territories of Mars, the Moon, and a handful of Jupiter's satellites. Art Mumby lives with his father and his older sister, Myrtle, in Larklight --a sprawling, old house floating in space. Life is quiet, with the biggest thrill being the arrival of the delivery boat every few months, until a message comes announcing that there will be a visitor coming to Larklight. After that, Art and Myrtle embark on a dangerous yet exciting journey, which is documented by Art, along with pages interspersed throughout from Myrtle's diary. Their adventure is filled with space pirates, aliens, and giant spiders, and ultimately Art and Myrtle come to save the British Empire and discover something about their long-lost mother that they never knew. Old-fashioned pen-and-ink illustrations by David Wyatt add to the book's charm.

Book Talk:
April 24

Dear Diary,

I do not know what to do, or who else I can turn to. Mother was lost some time ago, aboard the Semek. Now Father is lost to Mr. Webster and his band of spiders aboard Larklight. Art is who-knows-where in the galaxy, and I am a captive of Sir Waverly on Mars. This should not be happening to me! I am one of Her Majesty Queen Victoria's loyal subjects, and I should not be treated in such a fashion! I should be preparing to go to Earth -- to London -- and enter into proper society. If I'm lucky, I might even go to the Grand Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, which promises to be magnificent. Perhaps Jack Havock will come with the Sophroma to rescue me. Although he is a notorious space pirate who is wanted by the British government, and although he travels with a rather unsavory crew of aliens, I believe he has good inside of him and his current circumstance is not entirely his fault. After all, he lost his parents when he was young, and was subjected to all manner of horrid tests and whatnot.

Alas, it would most likely be too dangerous for him to try. If only I knew where Art was! As annoying of a brother as he can sometimes be, he is the only family I have left. I never thought I would say this, but I wish it was as it had been before, on Larklight with Father and Art and our servants and my piano. A girl cannot be expected to rescue herself, can she?   I may have no choice, if I am to ever escape from here....

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Brothers and Sisters
Solar System
Space Flight
Victorian England

Awards & Reviews:
ALA Notable Children's Books (Older Readers), 2007
School Library Journal Best Books (Children's), 2006

Arthur (Art) and Myrtle Mumby's space-fantasy adventure begins at Larklight, an ancient structure that orbits Earth. Attacked one day in 1851 by spiderlike creatures, they escape, only to be marooned on the moon, where they are captured by a moth and encased in jars containing voracious larvae. Freed by a band of extraterrestrial pirates led by young human Jack Havock, they fall into many wild adventures and encounter a mad scientist helping the spider creatures destroy life in the solar system. Robots, aliens, famous explorers, and hoverhogs also play a role in this rollicking heroic romp, which resonates with Victorian England's mores. Reflecting Victorian custom, chapter subheads are long and descriptive, with Wyatt's amazingly detailed illustrations furthering the effect. Both the story line and the language demonstrate Reeve's respect for his readership. Kids can look forward to more adventures, though narrator Arthur is off to "have a nice buttered muffin and a cup of tea" first. Diana Herald
Booklist, October 1, 2006, p52

The glory of Empire meets Star Trek in this space fantasy-picaresque that Edgar Rice Burroughs would have loved ...Art, the quintessential boy, narrates this rip-roaring adventure, allowing his very ladylike sister's diary to fill in the holes when they are separated, and the interplay between the two is priceless in itself. Jolly good fun, all around.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2006 (Starred Review)

Reeve's humor is oh-so-British and utterly entertaining, and Wyatt's full-page pen-and-inks and spot illustrations enhance the sense of delight. The climax is an absolute hoot, and leaves the door wide open for any number of sequels.
Publishers Weekly, August 28, 2006, p54 (Starred Review)

Grade 6-10: This wildly imaginative sci-fi pirate adventure has tongue-in-cheek humor and social commentary on accepting those who are different, among other things. Art Mumby and his sister, Myrtle, proud citizens of the British Empire, which in 1851 includes extraterrestrial territories, live with their father in Larklight, a rambling house that just happens to be traveling through outer space. The arrival of elephant-sized white spiders sets in motion an adventure that takes the quibbling siblings across the universe to battle the forces of evil. The spiders, the First Ones, want the key to Larklight in order to destroy the Empire and rule again. Art and Myrtle, thinking their father dead in the spiders' webs, escape their home, only to be rescued by the notorious space pirate Jack Havock. His ship sails the lunar sea with its crew, including Ssilissa, a human-sized blue lizard, and a gigantic land crab named Nipper. Art is the narrator, but when he and his sister are separated, readers are treated to Myrtle's prim and proper diary entries. With the help of Jack and his merry band, good triumphs, the family is reunited, and Myrtle and Jack begin a romance. Reeve's cinematic prose describes his fantastic universe while also conveying a Victorian sensibility. Whimsical, detailed black-and-white illustrations enhance the text. Readers will eagerly suspend disbelief; they will be riveted by the exciting plot's twists and turns as our heroes face death-defying adventures and narrow escapes, all at a frenetic pace. As Art would declare, Huzzah! --Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
School Llibrary Journal, November 2006, p147 (Starred Review)

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Myrtle says that aliens, such as the Ionians, "are not even human, let alone English." Does Myrtle come to change her mind about aliens? What does this say about race relations in this alternate universe?
  2. Jack Havock, the legendary space pirate, is actually a boy not much older than Myrtle and Jack. How has his background shaped who he has become? What is it about Jack and his life that appeals to Art?
  3. In Larklight, the ability to travel to outer space was achieved as a result of Sir Isaac Newton's discoveries in the early 18 th century. Could an alternate world combining Victorian England with outer space travel actually have occurred? What would it have been like?

Related Websites:
The Official Website for the Book -

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathon Stroud, 2003-2006
The Death Collector by Justin Richards, 2006
From the Earth to the Moon as well as other titles by Jules Verne, 1865
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, 2004
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, 1980

The Hunter's League series by Mel Odom, 2005
Montmorency by Eleanor Updale, 2004
Montmorency on the Rocks by Eleanor Updale, 2005
Montmorency and the Assassins by Eleanor Updale, 2006
A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket, 1999-2006

Set in Stone by Linda Newbery, 2006
A Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman, 1988
The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, A Rubber Boy, and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken by Howard Whitehouse, 2006

The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman, 1990
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, 1898
Wendy by Karen Wallace, 2004

Other Books by the Author:
Mortal Engines, 2003 (A 2006 RITBA Nominee)
Predator's Gold, 2004
Infernal Devices, 2005
A Darkling Plain, 2007

About the Author:
Philip Reeve  worked in a bookshop and produced and directed several theater projects before embarking on a career as an illustrator and a writer. His first novel, Mortal Engines, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Book Award and won the GOLD Nestle Smarties book prize. He lives in Devon, England, with his wife and their son.