Lora lives with her family out in the desert dust of the Martian prairie. It’s a tough life that builds tough people, and Lora is preparing to one day run her own Homestead, growing crops between the destructive dust storms, and training their lizard beasts of burden. And then the Disappearances start. Lora’s grandmother and Ruby are the only two surviving original settlers, and as people start to vanish from the town, they warn that a greater threat is coming. When Lora’s own family is hit, she knows she has to do something before their way of life is consumed. But who is the true threat? Is it the native Martians, unseen for generations? Or could it be other humans? What if Mars is so much bigger than Lora could have ever imagined?
Lost on Mars is Little House on the Prairie meets a Firefly prequel, and the literary references are emphatic. I would assume that Lora is named deliberately for Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the autobiographical Little House series and, without giving too much away, there are explicit references to the ‘Emerald City’ of the Oz books and Dickensian London. It places this book, the first in a trilogy, firmly in its literary context, but I do wonder whether it speaks to a level of insecurity that it might be too weird to stand by itself. Lora, the protagonist, is a great reader, so that does explain some of the references, particularly the Dickensian comparison with the City Inside.
It is a wonderfully weird world. The family servant and friend is a sunbed called Toaster, and Lora makes friends – and more than friends? – with a female flying Martian called Sook who may or may not want to eat her. The ideas and the plotting are certainly there, but the writing feels a bit hit and miss. It’s not a major issue, and it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book, but the occasional time-lapse or jump could have been handled a little more smoothly, and there was a reliance on paraphrasing conversations rather than writing them through, which created a level of distance at times between me as the reader and the characters.
Overall, I enjoyed Lost on Mars, and will probably pick up the rest of the series at some point. The relationship between Sook and Lora is distinctively bizarre, but I would like to see what Sook’s true angle is, and how genuine her feeling is apart from her political or cultural motivations to cultivate a relationship with a human. She is definitely hiding something. I’d also like to know the fates of the rest of Lora’s family, from whom she is separated, along with their neighbours, including a trans woman (I’m pretty sure, but would appreciate if anyone could confirm!) and a girl who, last time we saw her, was still with her abusive parents. I might read the rest of the series just to find out what happens to these and other side characters!
Final Verdict: 3 stars