2021’s Three Twins at the Crater School is the first volume in Chaz Brenchley’s Crater School series.
Whereas the boys of British Mars are usually sent back to Earth for education, the girls of Mars are sent to local schools. Crater School is one such facility. It boards girls from first form through sixth. There they are to be turned into proper, modest, cultured British ladies. Failing that, they can be penned in an isolated location where their exuberance will not disrupt ordinary life.
The novel covers two crises involving three sets of twins: Tawney and Tasha, Levity and Charm, and Rachel and Vanessa.
Tawney and Tasha (who have been left at school over break) are put in charge of a newcomer to the school. Like Tawney and Tasha, Rachel is a twin. Unlike Tawney and Tasha, Rachel’s sister Vanessa is nowhere to be seen. Believing the girls to be too attached to each other, Rachel and Vanessa’s parents have sent Rachel to Crater School and Vanessa to Low Bridge School.
Rachel does not deal well with the separation. Denied direct contact with her sister, she writes letters instead. Many letters. The teachers intervene: epistolary contact is undermining parental intention and must be limited. Letters must be fewer and shorter.
The students object. They start sending messages to Vanessa in Rachel’s place. The staff intervenes again1, assigning each girl a pen pal at Low Bridge. They will be too busy to help Rachel.
The other set of twins, Levity and Charm, have their own problems. Their mother is a famous artist. They do not speak of their father; one might conclude that he is dead. The truth is worse: their father is the traitor Peregrine Murray, whose unctuous voice can be heard in broadcasts from Russian-occupied Phobos. Peregrine has tracked his daughters to Crater School.
Peregrine dispatches an invitation to his estranged daughters to join him. They refuse. Peregrine and his evil Tsarist bosses then plot to kidnap the girls. Tsarist agents are sent to the school to take the twins. It should be easy; they will be opposed only by a pack of schoolgirls (and possibly some large and violently territorial Martian wildlife).
Also: Vanessa, denied contact with Rachel, launches her own invasion of her sister’s school. She arrives at the school even as the crafty Russians begin their campaign. Hijinks ensue.
A note on the setting: it resembles 1930s SF in that space travel is implausibly fast and easy and the other planets and moons of the Solar System are human habitable. However, it might more properly be classified as an interplanetary gas-lamp science fiction setting, like Space 1889. The British have claimed Mars; the Russians have had to settle for inhospitable Venus (thus, the attempted invasion that left Mars’ moons in Russian control). Other European nations do not appear to have carved out any empires, at least none that play a role in this novel, which focuses on the Great Game IN SPAAACE!
The author wisely does not try to justify any of this. This is about nostalgia, not scientific plausibility.
Mars seems to have been shaped by native civilizations2 that have long-vanished by the time Earthlings came calling. Result is a cozy British imperium without that embarrassing messiness of actually-existing imperialism: conquest, looting, oppression, salt taxes, minor genocide, and all that.
I sense that this book was drawing on a literary tradition — novels about British boarding schools for girls — to which I have had little exposure beyond the occasional St. Trinian’s movie.
[**Editor’s note: the author seems to be a fan of the Chalet School novels (all fifty-eight of them) which are hard to find in print or in unabridged form. I suspect that the unavailability of the ur-texts might have prompted an attempt rewrite them on Mars. Other schoolgirl novels: Enid Blyton (on Amazon) or Angela Brazil (on Gutenberg, free). Featuring racism, sexism, imperialism, classism, etc.]
The above makes me wonder how it is the Chalet books could be out of print in this era of ebook reprints. If the estate is the issue and I have no reason to think it is, I think the books enter the public domain in a few years.
If, like me, your only exposure to this genre is St Trinian’s, be aware the girls in this are considerably less criminal or debauched in their interests than the free spirits at St Trinian’s. The girls of the Crater School indulge in what they call “wickedness,” but it is a very wholesome wickedness, consisting of sneaking forbidden snacks3, assisting forlorn friends, making friends with the colourful population of rustic illiterates living nearby, and exploring the grounds around the school regardless of rules, treacherous terrain, and easily provoked merlins. They may mob the occasional wandering Russian agent, but they do not then steal their wallets or tie them down on a merlin trail.
1: My sympathies were with the girls here.
2: The only natives around in the modern era are the merlins, who are aquatic, non-technological, marginally able to communicate, and who may not be intelligent at such. They are, however, reasonable numerous and dangerous enough that the colonists treat them with respect. Failure to do so may result in being torn limb from limb by irritated merlins.
Canada’s history, which featured European settlers dying in job lots despite having First Nations to hand from whom to draw inspiration on how to survive winter, suggests that the early years of Martian settlement, lacking as they did natives to turn to for advice, involved a lot of total party kills thanks to inclement Martian weather and irritable merlins. The text appears to confirm this.
3: Editor’s note: Most school novels, whether schoolboys or schoolgirls, feature students going to great lengths to procure forbidden foods and consume them in secret. Midnight feasts in dorm rooms. Hush! Hush! the teachers will hear us. Hiding the food under the beds and jumping into bed when alarmed. This must have been an enduring school tradition, passed down from student to student. (Perhaps it still is?) The teachers know all about it and play the game. It’s a form of rebellion that results in, at most, a stomach-ache.