I am giving this novel four stars while being aware that if I had been in another frame of mind I might have given it only one star.
I have read Edgar Rice Burroughs and other pulp writers of the 1930s and before with their stories of Mars in which Martian civilizations vie with one another at sword point and fantastic beasts roam the Martian landscape and I have enjoyed those stories. However, we have photographs directly from Mars showing us that no such things exist. So how do I enjoy those adventures? Well, the pulp writers didn't know any better. That is, in the 1930s and before virtually nothing was known about the conditions on Mars and so it couldn't be said that those civilizations did not exist. They were completely made up out of nothing of course, but we didn't know that they could not be. Those writers simply used the unknown territory of Mars as a setting for their fantastic adventure stories. I would not have thought that I could have liked a story of the like that was written in the twenty first century. I did though. So How did I?
I occasionally watch stand-up comedians and laugh. If I did not know that they were not fools and if I did not know that they did not know that we, the audience, were not fools I would probably be yelling that they were stupid idiots. That is, if I had no sense of humor I could not enjoy them and would be exasperated at their idiocy. But, instead, I laugh. I think I collaborate with Stirling in the same way that I do with those comedians to suspend my disbelief. He allows me to do so by, for one thing, letting the martians be discovered by a space probe in 1962 and writing the rest of the story as an alternate history. He also explains the Martians by postulating that Mars and Venus were terraformed and seeded with Earth life sometime in the distant prehistory by interstellar aliens. With that, an interplanetary romance and adventure proceeds and it is qquite entertaining. Besides, Stirling writes a good deal better than the old pulp writers.