I acquired my uncorrected proof copy of this book at the World Fantasy Con 2013 and when considering what to read that night with the wind moaning through the hotel window in an impressive imitation of Wuthering Heights, my hand slid towards the jolly red cover. Which just goes to show what a clever hand it is – the book is aimed at the eight to twelve-year-old market, but this considerably older reader found it great fun.
When I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.
And congratulations to the blurb writer. It perfectly captures the flavour of the adventure and the entertaining voice of the first person protagonist, without producing any major spoilers – which these days is an increasing rarity on book covers.
Alice Dare is being evacuated to Mars because of her mother’s fame, so she doesn’t immediately fit in with the cool kids. Neither does her friend, Josephine, who is being evacuated because she is extremely clever. For all the chirpy voice, this book doesn’t shirk some gnarly issues – how Alice and her friends deal with some unpleasant bullying and the effects of war on families – being two of the more hardcore problems they are confronted with.
The humorous voice allows Alice to pick her way through this minefield convincingly and yet without creating too much emotional havoc. Although there were no other book credits on the cover, I was fairly sure that McDougall wasn’t a new author. The writing was just too assured to be someone feeling their way into the craft – and sure enough when I returned home to my know-it-all friend, the internet confirmed my suspicions. Sophia McDougall has written the highly regarded alternate history trilogy for adults, Romanitas. Which accounts for the deft characterisation, perfect pacing and entertaining story arc that ensured I zoned out the howling windows until the satisfying ending. This is a book that will certainly be on my granddaughter’s reading list just as soon as she’s ready for it. I can’t wait to share it with her – in the meantime, why not track it down when it comes available at the end of March next year? It’s simply too good to leave solely for the children.