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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Amazon | Goodreads
Dystopian/Retelling, 402 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Balzer + Bray
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.

I am bound to judge any story that uses Persuasion pretty harshly. I can't help myself; I'm a huge Persuasion fan, and there haven't been enough adaptations of it to dull my senses to the inconsistencies yet. So it's a risk - as much as I look forward to stories that make use of it, there's a good chance that I just won't be able to let things go. I think I probably was harder on this that I would have been if it didn't use Persuasion and instead was just another dystopian YA. But it was inevitable that I would judge it harshly - though even then, I couldn't help but love it.

It was unputdownable. It had that indefinable something working for it, and the heart of it, the way it mirrored Persuasion but adapted to fit a wholly different environment, was really compelling to me. There were always parts of me saying, Anne wouldn't say what Elliot just said, Anne wouldn't do what Elliot just did - but then I'd catch myself thinking, but she would feel it...  And that was why it worked. No, Elliot is not a carbon copy of Anne. She has Anne's basic traits (she's loyal, she's smart, reliable, and compassionate, and everyone pushes her around), but she is also a product of her environment, and the two work together to create a character that strongly resembles Anne (is very Anne-like), but is also her own creation. I really have to applaud Peterfreund for being able to balance the two so well. The story is at once a clear retelling of Persuasion, and its own very different story entirely. It's not just a regurgitation of Persuasion in an exciting dystopic setting. It's its own creation, and though there are these changes in the core of who the characters are, I think for the most part, they're suited to the story Peterfreund created. It feels more "inspired by" than a straight retelling. I think you can really tell how much Peterfreund likes Persuasion and Austen, and respects her source material, and that's part of what really makes it work as a whole.

That isn't to say there weren't things that bothered me, or that didn't work from a retelling standpoint. Because this is written for YA, the timing doesn't have the same impact. In Persuasion, Anne and Wentworth fall in love and are separated when Anne is 19, and then meet again nearly a decade later. Moving up the timetable to suit a YA audience means that Elliot and Kai are separated at 14 and come together again at 18, and I have never been enough of a romantic that I would consider separated 14 year olds to be tragic lovers, and a reunion at 18 to be a triumphant return... It lessens it somehow; lessens the tragedy and the sadness of pining and being alone for almost 10 years, takes away the pain of feeling like the character will always be alone, like she's lost her only chance... It makes it all a little lighter, which is sad because there's really nothing that Peterfreund could do differently and still have it suit the audience. The way, too, that they are separated - with Elliot first of all in mourning, and second, legitimately making the right decision for everyone around her - means that it becomes a lot harder to like Kai. I did like him, don't get me wrong, but I think that was maybe only because I knew who he was supposed to be, and how he was going to turn out. Otherwise, I think I would have found him really callous and almost cruel, both in the manner and timing of their separation, and in his treatment of Elliot on his return.

Other things that niggled at me: It feels like the beginning to a series. I don't think it will be, but that's just because I know it is a retelling. If I picked this up just as a sci-fi read, I'd be sure it was going to be a trilogy. There's so much that feels like it could still be explored, and for all of the doom and gloom of the situation, and Elliot's internal debates over what's right and what the future should hold, things are far too easily wrapped up once she's (re)secured Kai's affections; in fact, the entire book ends too abruptly for me, with it feeling like Elliot is being rash, and a number of characters being ushered quickly off the stage... Also, I didn't like the letters that begin and punctuate the book. I got used to them, and I like what Elliot did with them, and the knothole, etc., but the letters themselves felt forced on the story to me, and they didn't work as a way to draw me into the story.

See? See how nitpicky this all turned out, when I really do want to push this book into everyone's hands? Ugh, okay: Despite my obsessive attention to this as a Persuasion retelling, and my too-harsh judgement as a result (because I have to, I can't not, it's one of my all-time faves), Peterfreund crafted a really compelling story that:
a) is one of the most unique Austen adaptations I've ever read. And I mean unique in a good way - P&P&Z was "unique" too, but my god, was it ever terrible. This is both unique and functioning as a story, compelling and interesting, very very different from other adaptations, but showcasing the same love of the original as the best adaptations do.
b) works both as a retelling and as a complete original, which I don't know I have ever said - or even thought - about any other adaptation.  It can be read by fans of YA, fans of Austen, and fans of both, and each group will get something different out of it while also enjoying it for what they came to it for, adaptation or YA sci-fi (And they won't feel like they're missing anything by not being familiar with Austen and/or YA).
c) presents a really interesting, engaging world with characters and conflicts that intrigued me.

So yes, as much as I notice all these little things, and feel compelled to say "But wait - but what about - but then - " I really did thoroughly enjoy this and think Peterfreund did a fantastic job of making it work so very far out of the box.
So get it. Read it. And enjoy it immensely with me even while we pick it apart...

Click here to be taken to the Austen in August Main Page! Fab button artwork c/o Antique Fashionista!


  1. First of all, great review! I personally, LOVE Persuasion so I wasn't as happy with this book. I didn't like Elliot or Kai; both characters got on my last nerves. I agree that being in YA, the timing was very put off. I didn't like the letters between Elliot and Kai either (it was misunderstanding after misunderstand!).

  2. Great review! It shows the balance of the Austen elements with the mix of how strong the book still is. I STILL haven't read this yet myself, which is so upsetting b/c I've wanted it since it was announced. That's it. Your review has me salivating. I'm going to throw it onto my bed for the ASAP pile!

  3. I absolutely LOVED this book. For me, THIS is the Persuasion I wish Jane had written -- Elliott's portrayal of Anne feels more fleshed out. I can actually understand why she made the decisions she did, and I can SEE the relationship and rocky past between her and Kai ...

    I definitely agree: It feels like there's more. In Goodreads (I think? it's somewhere...), I believe it's actually marked as #1, so maybe there is going to be more to the story ... I hope so, personally :o)

  4. great to get your inside scoop Misty! now that it's on its way to me too :)

  5. You're totally right about the separation at 14 not being as dramatic, although she sure tried with those letters, which I wasn't a huge fan of actually.

    I also agree that it does feel like there should be more. That ending feels like the beginning of something larger, but it's not.

    Another problem I saw was that I don't think Kai was redeemed from his initial jerkiness as much as Wentworth was.

    ALSO, I need to sidebar and talk about P&P&Z since you brought it up. Thank you for acknowledging what a pile of crap it is. Seriously, it probably took the guy like five hours to 'write it.' He mostly just ctrl-Hed (find and replaced) his way through the book. Replace piano forte with deadly arts. Add a couple of zombie attack scenes. BOOM. You have an instant bestseller in less time than it takes to make mac and cheese.

  6. I think my feelings toward PPZ have gotten even more negative since my review, Christina... and I didn't like it at all to begin with.

  7. Great review! I definitely intend on reading For Darkness Shows the Stars after the Persuasion read along. I actually haven't read any Austen retellings, so it will be interesting to see what my first experience is like. Although I am enjoying Persuasion, I do not think it will become my favorite Austen book, so I may be able to be slightly less nitpicky than you with the adaptation - but then again, maybe not. We'll see!


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