Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats

Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats

Philip Reeve
Illustrator:  David Wyatt 
Fiction  Series
For ages 10 and up
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, 2007   ISBN: 1599902966

The Mumby family are living in a state of chaos. Their home, Larklight, is being redecorated and the resulting confusion and mess is proving to be very trying indeed. Art and his mother are therefore delighted when a Mr. Mortimer Titfer – a friend of a mutual friend – invites the family to spend some time at Starcross, his resort hotel. The hotel is located on an asteroid and Mr. Titfer says that it has “some of the best sea bathing anywhere in British Space.” Art’s father cannot go but there is no reason why Art, Mother and Myrtle cannot do so. Art and Mother are excited at the prospect of a change of scene, but Art’s sister Myrtle is feeling too depressed to care much what they do. Her ‘young gentleman,’ a certain Jack Havock, has not been responding to her letters.

It is not long before the Mumby’s are at Starcross. The hotel is certainly very luxurious and the other guests seem nice enough. The sea apparently is only present for twelve hours out of every twenty-four, which is rather odd, but it is very pleasant to bathe in when it is on the sands. The Mumbys are surprised and delighted to see that their friend Jack Havoc is staying at the hotel, though they cannot help wondering why he is using an assumed name.

Then things start to take on a decidedly dark tone. First the visitors discover that a pair of trees on an island are not trees at all; they are, or rather were, Sir Richard and Ulla Burton. Somehow someone has transformed them into Changeling Tree hybrids. Then one of the visitors, a sentient shrub called Professor Ferny, is poisoned.

Not long after this frightening event, in the darkness of the night, Art and his family are attacked. Art discovers that the top hats which have been placed in ever guest room closet, are not top hats at all. They are some kind of life form and they are definitely not friendly. To his horror he sees that his old friends Grindle, Nipper, and Mr. Munkulus, along with some of the hotel residents, are under the influence of these hats. They are not, in short, themselves, and they are doing wherever Mr. Titfer tells them to do. Art and his mother are seized and taken prisoner, but Myrtle manages to escape with Jack.

Art and Mother discover that Mr. Titfer invited them to the hotel because he wants Mother to use her skills to adapt her old Shaper machine (which he had brought to Starcross) into a device which will help him attain great power. What Mr. Titfer does not realize is that the creatures which he is using to mesmerize his prisoners - the hat-like moobs – are in fact using him. They have their own plans and he is just a pawn in their clever scheme to take over the universe.

Meanwhile Myrtle and Jack have been time shifted – Starcross is far from stable when it comes to time – back many thousands of years. They are not alone however. Two of the other Starcross visitors are with them and they are not at all what they seemed. Miss Delphine Beauregard is in fact a French spy and her nurse, Mrs. Grindle, in really a posse of “very small goblin-like beings.” Delphine intends to do whatever she can to further the interests of France at the expense of the British Empire.

Will Myrtle and Jack, Art and Mother be able to rescue their friends and stop the moobs from taking over the Known Universe? Will they be able to foil Delphine’s attempts to damage the balance of power?

As they read this thoroughly enjoyable book readers will find themselves wondering, again and again, what is going to happen next. Utterly captivating and wonderfully crafted, this sequel to “Larklight” is funny, very entertaining, and full of unexpected surprises. Written in a style which has a Victorian era feel to it, the tale, with its accompanying artwork, will give readers a very definite sense that they are taking a journey to a different and exciting world.