Summary: Arthur and his sister Myrtle are expecting a guest on their seldom-visited home of Larklight just outside the moon's orbit. Unfortunately for them, their visitor turns out to be a band of giant spiders who quickly take over their home. The two siblings quickly escape and are rescued by a band of pirates. The pirates turn out to be not as bad as their reputation that precedes them. In a space skirmish, Myrtle is taken to Mars by the fiendish spiders to be rescued by Martians. She ends up in London (only to assault Queen Victoria in a case of mistaken identity!). Arthur, on the other hand, in the search for his sister, finds his long-lost (and believed to be dead mother). Arthur and his mother realize that the spiders are planning something horrible on Earth to bring down the British Empire. Little do they realize that it is not at the Crystal Palace, but the Crystal Palace itself as the celebrated building turns into an enormous machine bent on destroying London.
Summary: Arthur, Myrtle, and their mother decide to take a holiday at the famous Starcross resort on an asteroid off Mars. Soon, Arthur realizes that the asteroid has the ability to travel back in time to when Mars once had oceans. While there, they discover that a a band of interstellar creatures called Moobs that seem to have taken on the shape of gentlemen's hats. Myrtle gets stranded with her pirate love interest and a member of the French Legion back in Martian pre-history. Arthur and his mother, on the other hand, have to keep the Moobs from taking over the British Empire.
Assessment: It is 1851 and Britannia not only rules the waves, but Mars, Jupiter, and other parts of the universe as well. Phillip takes a page from Jules Verne with unusual machines and fantastic worlds where life teem and humans don't have to worry about space suits or oxygen, and fuses it with action. The pace is non-stop fun, particularly in the author's ability to portray and parody British sensibilities from the 1800s. For example, Myrtle is absolutely obsessed with dresses she sees in magazines and appearing to be a proper British lady (including her wondering why she can't swoon like the ladies in the novels she reads). Arthur, on the other hand, takes comical views of his sisters silliness (glossing over people gushing emotions and making fun of his sister's bathing costume - a proper Victorian thing with a bustle to hold safety supplies should the wearer be lost at sea). Both books were just tremendous fun to read and I highly recommend them.