Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, by Alex Alice

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, by Alex Alice (First Second, September 2017) is the most beautiful graphic novel I've read so far this year, and on top of that, it is one of the most interesting stories I've read this year of any genre. It is an oversized book, so the pages have plenty of room for both the detailed illustrations and the detailed plot!

Claire Dulac knew that she was taking a risk when she flew her hot air balloon to the very edge of the stratosphere.  But she judged it one worth taking--if she could find the aether, a mysterious element, air travel, and possibly even space exploration, would be possible. She promised her husband that she would return to him and their son...but she didn't.

The boy Sarphin, won't give up hope that somehow she survived.  And when, a year after she disappeared, a mysterious letter arrives from someone claiming to have found her logbook from that last journey, his hope is renewed.  The letter summons them to the castle of King Ludwig of Bavaria, a "mad" king who dreams of flying ships powered by aether.  The king hopes Claire's husband and son can continue his work, but in the meantime, Bismark dreams of a united Germany given power on the world stage by controlling aether themselves.  His spies are everywhere, and Seraphin and his father are in danger....

So this is part steampunk, part historical fiction, part a celebration of the fabulous creativity of the Victorian age, when scientists were making incredible discoveries and writers were exploding with romantic creativity.  It is a book that screams "give me as a present!" and so, if you need a gift for:

--a young graphic novel fan in general (teenaged rather than a young kid, because the story is a bit complicated and some knowledge of history is helpful.  But there's nothing particularly "young adult" about the plot, so if you have the right sort of 9-12 year old, who likes detail, and history, and machines, offer it up!)
--a fan (of any age) of steampunk, Jules Verne, or late 19th century European history,

this is the one!

I was in fact tempted to keep my review copy hidden from my own teenaged graphic novel reading son, but he is a judge for the Cybils Awards in the graphic novel category, and would be reading this before Christmas in any event.  Here are his thoughts, at his own blog, A Goblin Reviews Graphic Novels.  He would have liked getting it as a Christmas present.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. This is on my TBR list! It's good to know you enjoyed it and that the art is beautiful. The art can make or break a book!

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