Emperor of Mars, by Patrick Samphire

The Emperor of Mars (Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, #2)The Emperor of Mars, by Patrick Samphire (Henry Holt and Co, July 2017), is the sequel to one of my favorite books of last year, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb (my review), and so, not unexpectedly, I enjoyed reading it lots!  It picks up where the first book ended, but it actually would work fairly well as a stand-alone, because it has it's whole own plot and all the details and world-building and past adventures are folded in nicely (without info. dumping).  I think this one is an easier sell to kids--it is a heist type story, with a rush to figure out mysteries and recover a stolen item from a truly formidable enemy with lots of mechanical monstrosities at his command. So steam-punk adventure sci fi/fantasy reading kids should like it lots!

I can't do any better summarizing the set-up than I did in my first review:

The basic premise of the worldbuilding is that there are slip-ways created by Martian dragons long ago that connect Mars to Earth, and the discovery of these paths in the 17th century allowed the British (and other terrestrial civilizations;  for instance, there are also Chinese, Turkish, and Patagonian colonies) to establish colonies on Mars. It is now 1816, the Napoleonic era, and a boy named Edward and his family live a very comfortable British Imperial existence on Mars.  The ancient Martian civilizations are no more, although there are still plenty of native Martians around (they are human as well, though physically different due to centuries of life on a planet with lower gravity).  And the tombs of the Marian emperors of centuries past are rich repositories of wondrous technology...the sort of technology that could tip the balance of the ongoing war on Earth in Napoleon's favor if he could get a hold of it....

After the adventures of the first book, Edward has decided to give up trying to look after his family and instead is hoping to find his own passion.  It doesn't work.  Instead, he gets caught up in new adventures totally beyond his control, and once again, instead of being the hero, he ends up battered and bruised and lucky to be alive (mechanical monsters and attacking Martian sea serpents will do that to a person) with the somewhat justified feeling that he made a mess of things.  But the fault of course lies not with Edward, but with the self-styled Emperor of Mars, who has reclaimed ancient Martian technology to fuel his own ambitions.

Edward continues, as well, to be over-shadowed by his sisters.  Although Olivia is only a minor presence in this installment, Putty is still as brilliantly wild and determined as ever (she is a STEM role model par excellence if you don't mind adventurous, somewhat amoral, expression of mechanical genius), and Jane, who was written off in the first book as being marriage obsessed, comes into her own with her intellectual abilities saving the day (poor Edward, outshone again...).   A new character, a girl thief, adds interest, because the reader knows from experience that characters in this world might not be exactly who they seem.  Sadly (for us readers who loved him), Freddy is back on Earth, working to foil Napoleon.

Speaking of which, there's also a spy in the mix, busily feeding secrets of Martian technology to Napoleon that could make him unstoppable....a problem that will presumably be dealt with in a future book because goodness knows there were enough problems to be dealt with here!

My review of the first book closed with me saying  "I hope it goes into the culture conflict on Mars more than the adventure/danger plot of this first book allowed."  And it does--there are very interesting (particularly to me, because critical examination of colonization is part of what I do for work as an archaeologist) moments of questioning the imperialist attitudes of the British, poking at the assumptions of the colonizers.  I was happy to see a native Martian get a chance to speak directly of the history of the Martian Emperors (much more technologically advanced than Earth) of long ago, and speak also of the attitudes of contemporary Martians to their past.(complicated).  Archaeologist me, though, was horrified by the destruction of the museum, and I hope the artifacts can be restored.....

And than as a special magical bonus, the dragon's egg that Putty claimed for herself in the last book hatches, and now there is once again a real live dragon on Mars!

Lots of action, interesting characters, and fascinating world-building make for another good book!  I can't help but prefer the first one, because of Freddy, but I enjoyed this one lots too and can't wait for the next installment and more of Putty's dragon, more of Jane's intellectual pursuits,

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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