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'Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869' review: An imaginative, all-ages story

Comic Books

‘Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869’ review: An imaginative, all-ages story

A fun, alternate-history world, that’s full of youthful mystery and adventure.

First Second has just released the this new hardback graphic novel.

From the publisher:

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In search of the mysterious element known as aether, Claire Dulac flew her hot air balloon toward the edge of our stratosphere–and never returned. Her husband, genius engineer Archibald Dulac, is certain that she is forever lost. Her son, Seraphin, still holds out hope.

One year after her disappearance, Seraphin and his father are delivered a tantalizing clue: a letter from an unknown sender who claims to have Claire’s lost logbook. The letter summons them to a Bavarian castle, where an ambitious young king dreams of flying the skies in a ship powered by aether. But within the castle walls, danger lurks–there are those who would stop at nothing to conquer the stars.
In this lavishly illustrated graphic novel, Alex Alice delivers a historical fantasy adventure set in a world where man journeyed into space in 1869, not 1969.

It’s the first part of a modern day fairy tale, by French graphic novelist, Alex Alice. Is it good?

The cover of this hardback is beautifully realized in watercolor images of the main character Seraphin and the other support players in the story. It’s the kind that would draw your eye if you saw it on display in a book store. Luckily, the artwork inside matches the quality of the cover, though the white pages tend to give the watercolors a lighter, pastel look in the panels. The characters have a somewhat cartoony style to their faces and expressions, rather than a more mature or serious look, but it fits well with the story’s fairy tale-like tone. The backgrounds are standout gorgeous, especially the larger panels depicting Bavarian landscapes and detailed throne rooms.

The story itself deals with the mythic element “Aether”. Mentioned by the ancient greeks, Seraphin’s mother is on a mission to prove its existence, to use as a powerful fuel for aircraft. This comes into play as the Bavarian king has plans to build a flying ship, powered by Aether, while the Prussians want the technology to make a flying war machine with. Archibald Dulac is building the engines for the ship, which puts he and Seraphin in a dangerous situation.

'Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869' review: An imaginative, all-ages story

The characters are likable, especially Seraphin, who is more of a dreamer like his mother, rather than a pragmatist like Archibald. Along with the two friends he makes in the castle, it’s his viewpoint that gives the story a sense of wonder, as we vicariously feel his excitement as he explores the castle and watches the airship being built. There is enough historical background given about the state of Germany at the time, along with the attitudes of the proper and Victorian adults, that without his perspective, the tone would have been completely different.

It’s a well told story, with an almost steam-punk aesthetic, that felt original. As I read it, I couldn’t help but compare it to a classic Disney movie, along the lines of the Swiss Family Robinson or Treasure Island. Although there are dangerous men, narrow escapes, and politicalintrigue, none of it feels too heavy, with no blood or gore. Alex Alice did a nice job giving technical and historical details without bogging the plot down and taking you out of the story.

'Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869' review: An imaginative, all-ages story

Is It Good?

It’s a great looking book for sure and the story has a lot of imagination. Nothing feels too dangerous or too suspenseful that it would be inaccessible for, say, a fifth grader. Those who only like more mature storylines might give it a pass, but that’s not to say it’s only for kids. The art and creativeness of the story make it a book I would recommend to anyone, regardless of age.


Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869
Is it good?
Beautiful watercolors on every page illustrate a fun, alternate-history world that’s full of youthful mystery and adventure.
The watercolor art, both on the cover and inside, is fantastic
Original and well written storyline
Likable characters that aren’t too cloying, even when focusing on the younger protagonists
It’s a G-rated storyline that might not appeal to some adults
This is only part one, so you’ll have to buy the second volume if you want to know how the story concludes

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