Author: Diana Peterfreund
Publication Date: 6/12/12
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Blurb(GR): Generations ago, a genetic experiment gone wrong—the Reduction—decimated humanity, 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.
In the realm of music, this post-apocalyptic reboot of Jane Austen’s Persuasion would be what’s referred to as a cover song. As a massive music fan, I’ve developed two major criteria for what I think makes a successful cover song (aspiring musicians take note – a YA book blogger is giving you advice!):
1) The source material has to be pretty mediocre and possibly annoying. It’s begging to be redone.
Exhibit A: Ryan Adams’ cover of Oasis’ Wonderwall (sorry Oasis lovers but I grew up in the nineties. I lived through the five year period when this song was played at least twice per hour, every hour.)
Exhibit B: Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness I didn’t even realize this was a cover. That’s how good his version is. It’s eclipsed all others.
2) If the source material is brilliant, it must be re-done in such a way that it is completely unrecognizable from the original.
Exhibit A: Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah
Exhibit B: Jimi Hendrix’ cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower
Exhibit C: Nirvana’s cover of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World
I’ve been pretty vocal about my absolute love for Jane Austen’s Persuasion, so obviously to me it’s a work of brilliance. For me to enjoy this book, it would have to employ strategy #2: it would have to be pretty innovative and different than its source material.
And the first half of this book appears to be exactly that. I think Diana Peterfreund has a really interesting idea here. This story takes place in a post-apocalyptic England (I think – it’s never explicitly stated) where ambitious human tinkering with genetics has resulted in the majority of the human population becoming “Reduced” – essentially mentally limited and unable to speak or care for themselves. The lone survivors are the “Luddites” – a group of people opposed to all genetic manipulation who hid out in caves while the rest of the world imploded. Upon emerging from the caves, the Luddites discovered the Reduced and decided that it was their God-given duty to care for these leftover people. So of course, they decided to round them up and install them as slave labor on plantations and farms. Naturally. The twisted relationship between these two groups becomes even more charged when the Reduced start producing normal offspring, or “Posts” (which is an abbreviation of “post-reductionist”). These children are born into a slave role but begin to chafe at the injustice of their situation.
Isn’t that just deliciously dark? I know it intrigued me. There’s so much potential there for a very complex world. Plus, I think it’s an interesting spin on the relationship between the nobility and the working class in Georgian England (not to mention, it’s obvious that a great deal of inspiration was taken from American slavery).
Unfortunately though, I think this is yet another case of an (admittedly ambitious) post-apocalyptic setting being reduced to a simple backdrop for fraught young love. Kai is a Post, Elliot is a Luddite. They are in love, yet this crazy crazy world won’t let them be together. Woe, woe, woe times infinity.
The slavery itself feels a bit oversimplified and even sanitized in parts. The life of a slave is hard and slaves are often abused… Elliot mentions this several times but then always assures the reader that these things don’t happen on her plantation (even though in every other case her father is a merciless tyrant). It’s mentioned in one scene that the Reduced/Posts work ten hour days and in another scene that they don’t get paid, but Elliot never seems to consider these details wrong. Several Posts are incredibly loyal to her, but they are never shown to have any conflict, any deeper feelings about staying on the plantation. One of her Post friends is sent to a birthing house – a terrible place where pregnant Reduced have to go – but then seems to just smile and accept it, assuring Elliot that “it’s not so bad.” Even at the end, Elliot doesn’t free them, offer to pay them a wage, or offer them any option other than working on her farm. It’s just glossed over like it’s no big deal. Slavery is never not a big deal!
My other major problem with this book is that I just couldn’t ever stop comparing it to its source material. This book is very similar to Persuasion in its basic storyline and in its characters, which was a major problem for me because it was so obviously less than the original. I love Anne Elliot because she is mature, quiet, introspective, and she has understandable regret. When Captain Wentworth reappears in her life, it is the most heartbreaking and awkward situation she has ever endured, but she gets through it stoically and with grace, even as she’s shattering on the inside. Captain Wentworth is an enigma: he appears to have moved on, but has he? We aren’t allowed to know until the very end and his final epistolary reveal is one of the most beautiful, cathartic letters ever written. EVER.
Whereas, in this book Elliot is a young woman who had to refuse Kai. She had to, or everyone on her plantation would starve. She’s allowed to have a righteous certainty in her decision that Anne never had. Kai is vocal about his anger from the get-go, turning Elliot into even more of the victim. His true feelings are blatantly revealed in several scenes before the letter, thus rendering its cathartic potential completely inert. And the letter itself is like a poorly paraphrased version of the original. It would be better to just omit that famous letter rather than “re-write” it in a completely unoriginal way. All of these elements together make this book feel like a much less nuanced, much less mature, much less powerful version of the original.
The ending feels hasty and clumsy, with conflicts magically resolving (or being left to hang without a thought), villains disappearing off the page into thin air, and several characters making abrupt one-eighties that feel convenient but not realistic. In the world of cover songs, this book is neither original nor innovative.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Cee Lo Green – No One’s Gonna Love You
A note about the cover: This cover has got to go! Elliot is repeatedly described as having brown skin, almond-shaped eyes, and long black hair. She’s clearly not a white person! And there's a reason why everyone saw this cover and assumed this was "Persuasion in space."