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 an utterly gorgeous alternate history, originally published in French.  It's the story of a boy whose mother is a great adventurer, determined to rise in her balloon to deadly heights in pursuit of Aether, a substance that could power incredible wonders.  Sadly, just as she makes her discovery that it doesn't in fact exist, her mission fails, and she dies up in the dark cold at the edge of Earth's atmosphere.  Her journal, though, falls to Earth...

And her son, Seraphin, and her husband grieve, but when, a while later, they receive word her journal has been found and is waiting for them in Bavaria, they set off to retrieve it.  This journey takes them into danger, for the political situation is tense.  The Prussian general Bismark is pressing the other German principalities hard to join him in a unified Germany, and King Ludwig of Bavaria is most reluctant to do so.  Aether, with its potential for military usefulness, could tip the balance of power, and lead to conquest of not just earthly realms, but galactic ones.

Seraphin is determined to foil the Prussian plans, and throws himself into working to continue his mother's dream, while planting false information for Bismark's spies to find.  And Mad King Ludwig, perhaps not so mad at all, dreams of flighing beyond Earth. Fortunately for Seraphin, he becomes part of a cohort of plucky youngsters who can make this dream come true.  If, that it, Bismark doesn't seize it from them....

I know it is only September, but I am already thinking about Christmas presents. This is an absolutely perfect present to give to:

--a connoisseur of beautiful graphic novels.  It has a classy, elegant design and beautiful illustrations.  Likewise, an experienced fan of graphic novels in general (you need to pay attention to the text with this one or else you won't understand it), who likes stories that are fun and fantastical and which bear re-reading multiple times.

--a young reader who enjoyed Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series, even if they might not be a graphic novel fan first and foremost, as this too is alternate European history with a steampunk flavor

--a not necessarily young reader who's a fan of Jules Verne, and 19th century romantic/mad science imaginings in general.  In short, if you have an elderly relative who's impossible to find a present for, but who has Jules Verne on their bookshelves, this would be a suitable gift.

When my review copy arrived, I considered holding it back from my own son till Christmas (he fits all but the last of the categories above).  But it was so perfect for him I couldn't stand to make him wait!  And it was a pleasure seeing him enjoying it.

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