Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Across a Star-Swept Sea--Diana Peterfreund
October 2013 by Balzer +  Bray
464 pages--Goodreads

Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

In this thrilling adventure inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, Diana Peterfreund creates an exquisitely rendered world where nothing is as it seems and two teens with very different pasts fight for a future only they dare to imagine.

I am so impressed by this novel.  After being a bit disappointed by For Darkness Shows the Stars, I was worried that Across a Star-Swept Sea would follow suit.  No worries!  It takes everything that For Darkness did right and builds on it.

First, the setting is perfect.  It's an excellent adaptation of the source material.  Peterfreund takes the class system of the first book and fits it to the framework of the French revolution.  The the reduction was cured a few centuries ago, but there is still class tension between the aristos and regs.  In Galatea those tensions erupt into a Reign of Terror with people being reduced rather than guillotined.  Fervor blinds the revolutionaries to the cruelty of their actions until they care only for revenge against the aristos and those who support them for all their crimes and their fathers' crimes and their fathers' fathers' crimes.  In Albion things are more stable, but those tensions still exist.  Some aristos are fair stewards; others are not.  And whispers of revolution from discontented regs threaten destabilize a regency government.

And the fact that Justen invented the reduction drug (albeit by accident) is a great adaptation of Marguerite's accidental betrayal in the original.  Basically, I just love good adaptations.  The ones that bring out the most important parts of the original and adapting those conflicts into a new setting.  The ones that stay true to the core of the characters while bringing out something new and interesting about them.

In that light, Persis is so annoying, and I mean that in the best possible way.  Her disguise requires her to act in a manner WAY below her intellect.  It drove me crazy how she had to hold back her complicated opinions about politics, gender relations, and social equality.  I hated every time Justen thought of her as a spoiled idiot.  It is so perfect for this story and the tension it needs.  I was a bit worried about this aspect of the adaptation--there is a big difference between a fop and a shallow socialite woman--but Peterfreund pulls it off masterfully, causing even Justen, the oh-so-enlightend, to question his gender assumption.

I know it wouldn't fit the story, but I wish we could see more of Persis' parents.  Dealing with an Alzheimer's-like condition would be both a fascinating, though tragic, plot line.  Persis, understandably, wants to ignore what was happening to her mother, but I want to see more exploration of that situation.

I only have a couple of complaints.  First, the multiple perspectives get a bit confusing at times.  For the story Peterfreund is telling, we do need to see from multiple characters' perspectives, but there isn't quite enough cuing as to when we switch perspectives.  I don't need a label slapped on each section, but it needs to be clear in the first sentence who's talking.  Sometimes it takes nearly a paragraph before we know who is narrating.

Second, I know most people were excited to see them again, but Elliot, Kai, and the rest of their group feel out of place in this story. There would have been better ways to lure the Poppy into a trap (for example, Remy getting captured) without pulling these characters in so late in the game.  And then the ending itself is just a bit too sudden.  Minor qualms, but still.

Across a Star-Swept Sea is excellent, both as its own story and as as a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel.  I need to go rewatch the movie now.  If you haven't read For Darkness, don't let that stop you from reading Across a Star-Swept Sea.  It's more of a companion novel than a sequel and can stand on its own.

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