Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the Stars--Diana Peterfreund
June 2012 Balzer + Bray
402 pages--Goodreads

It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

For Darkness Shows the Stars does a good job of both drawing on Persuasion while also standing as its own story.  The problem was I wouldn't let it be it's own story.  I could not stop comparing For Darkness to Persuasion and finding all the places it fell short.  I just couldn't let things go, and that kept me from enjoying the book as much as I could have.

The romance was neither tense nor tragic.  Seriously, Elliot.  Kai left when you were 14.  I had four concurrent crushes when I was 14 and none of those ever came close to panning out.  Move on.  I do like that Peterfreund built up their relationship as close childhood friends.  Then as adults Elliot and Kai talk to each other all the time, killing all the tension that is supposed to be there.  Anne and Wentworth never know what the other is thinking.  That's what makes the letter so satisfying: they finally, FINALLY express what we've been hoping they felt this whole time.  That tension just isn't there in For Darkness, even with Elliot and Kai's melodramatic fights.  

The letter itself was a disappointment   Nothing will ever be as swoon-worthy as Austen's original, and since Peterfreund hadn't been using Austenesque language, it would have been out of place to cut and paste it in.  But the rewritten letter is just so bland in comparison.  It honestly felt like a Sparknotes version of the original, and it was so much less than what I knew it could be.

I am impressed with how well Peterfreund translated Regency England's social structure to her post-apocalyptic world.  The classes are broken out just as rigidly and unsurmountably.  The Posts (rising middle class) are the new unknown middle ground threat.  The Reduced are just how the aristocracy and gentry would have viewed the peasant class, people who need to be watched over because they're not capable of caring for themselves.  Peterfreund also does an excellent job of making it clear why Elliot had to stay.  We can get a bit over-romantic while reading Persuasion and become convinced that Anne and Wentworth could have been happy as we overlook the fact that a war had just begun and he had no prospects and could have very easily died and left Anne a penniless widow cut off forever from her family.  It was the right choice for her to stay.  With Elliot we realize it would have been selfish of her to leave.  Had she left, the estate would have fallen apart from ill management and hundreds of people would have suffered.  

Peterfreund took a huge risk in reworking such beloved source material as Austen's Persuasion, and that risk didn't quite pan out for me, which is partly my own fault.  By the end of the novel I had finally allowed For Darkness to be its own novel and started to enjoy it more.  For Darkness Shows the Stars is not Persuasion by any measure, but it is good.  

Side note:  There was far too little of the Crofts/Innovations.  The Crofts are my absolute favorite Austen couple ever.  We see less of them in the movies, but in the books they are adorable.  The Innovations hardly spend two scenes together.  We see a lot of Felicia, and that's good, but I missed the Sophie going along with the Admiral's crazy driving and always sailing with him and the Admiral talking about how much he loved his wife, how he is used to having a woman (his wife) on his arm, and asking why all women can't be named Sophie. 

Sigh.  I should just go and reread Persuasion.

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