Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice, translated by Anne Smith and Owen Smith, 64pp, RL 4

Breathtakingly beautiful, exciting, and perfectly presented in a trim size larger than most graphic novels, Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, book 1, by French graphic novel writer and artist, Alex Alice. His bio notes that, as a child, Alice developed a lifelong passion for the, "ruins and castles of the medieval and romantic ages." This, with a touch of Jules Verne, some steampunk flourishes and a splash of history, informs this two volume epic.

Aether, a concept originated by Socrates, is the element that scientists, politicians and royalty are seeking in 1869 in the hopes of harnessing its power, for good and bad. As Castle in the Stars begins, Claire Dulac is preparing to ascend 11,000 meters into the atmosphere with a light bulb designed to detect aether, her husband Archibald trying to talk her out of this crazy experiment, her son Seraphin looking on. Claire's mission is both a success and failure.

A year later, and Seraphin is obsessed with aether, turning an assignment for his Latin class on Venus, the goddess, into an opportunity to discuss Venus the planet (not a star) and the probability that planetary conditions allow for dinosaurs to exist there, making the development of an aether-engine that can get an expedition to the planet a necessity. The story shifts quickly as word of the discovery of Claire's ship's log are sent to Archibald, along with the command that he leave for a castle in Bavaria immediately.

The action moves quickly in Castle in the Stars as Alice layers in detail after detail, both in story and illustrations, to this magical story. Bismark, the Prime Minister of Prussia, and his desire to unify the many kingdoms, duchies, principalities and city-states of Germany, along with Ludwig, the King of Bavaria, bring action, drama, intrigue and to the story as Seraphin and Archibald find themselves at Swan's Rock, an elaborate and fanciful castle built by the king with his personal fortune. Alice incorporates many biographical aspects of Ludwig into Castle in the Stars, including his profound love of the composer Wagner and the frescoes decorating the walls of Neuschwanstein (Swan's Rock) with scenes from Lohengrin, Parisfal, Tristan and Isolde and other operas. This alone would make Castle in the Stars compelling, but Ludwig has a secret, if eccentric plan in the works and he needs Archibald's design expertise to help see it to completion - and stop the Prussians from stealing it.

At Swan's Rock, Seraphin befriends Hans, a lad with a love of air travel, and his half sister Sophie, a castle servant. Together, they form the Knights of the Aether with the goal of stopping the Prussians and saving the great airship that Ludwig is having Archibald (once Archibald dissuades the king of having an orchestra pit on board) build. Book 1 of Castle in the Air ends on a moment of cliff hanging excitement that will have you anxiously awaiting Book 2 while also reading Book 1 over and over, noticing something new every time!

Source: Review Copy

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