If you're an adult who is anxiously awaiting the day when you can introduce a young friend to the joys of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, Philip Reeve has provided you with the perfect stepping stone in Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats.

Starcross is a continuation of the Mumby family's adventures introduced in the well-received Larklight. Reeve's blend of 19th-century travelogue, spy caper and science fiction keeps the reader bubbling with mirth when not pleasantly horrified by the evil machinations of villains. These include, but are not limited to, a rogue whose alias is clever Cockney rhyming slang for hat, a French spy masquerading as an invalid and legions of thought-sucking parasites from the future that disguise themselves as top hats.

Art Mumby, along with his mother and sister, are invited to the asteroid belt's only seaside resort by the seemingly benevolent innkeeper, Mr. Titfer, only to discover that sudden daily appearance of the sea is the result of regular time travel to the Mars of 100,000 years ago.

Mr. Titfer's sinister purpose in inviting the Mumby family for a visit is revealed when it turns out he has acquired equipment that only Mrs. Mumby can fix.

Art's sister Muriel, meanwhile, finds herself stranded on ancient Mars with a wounded British secret agent and an insane but persistent French spy. Art is an especially engaging narrator, with his readiness for adventure and his wariness at being used yet again as a bargaining chip to persuade his mother into some nefarious deed. When the narrative shifts to Muriel marooned on Mars, her put-upon air lasts just long enough to make the readers sympathetic to Art and his attitude to his sister's devotion to decorum.

It would be difficult for any reader to reach the triumphant end of Starcross without even one Huzzah! at the wit, ingenuity and delicious fun to be found in its pages. Of course, the cheer will be quickly followed by a plea of Encore! Ellen Myrick practices her own form of time travel from her home base near Nashville.

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