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A Jane Austen Retelling Done Right

Jenny reviews Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows The Stars, a fanTAStic Sci-fi/Dystopic retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion.

A Jane Austen Retelling Done Right

BOOK REPORT for For Darkness Shows The Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Cover Story: Floating Girl! Fancy Dress!
BFF Charm:  Platinum Edition! 
Swoonworthy Scale: 8
Talky Talk: Prosetastic 
Bonus Factors: Dystopia, Progress
Relationship Status: This Book I Once Loved's Younger Cousin 

Cover Story: Floating Girl! Fancy Dress!

So, as far as floating girls and fancy dresses go, I don't HATE this cover. However, Elliot (and her sister's) skin is described on two separate occasions as olive and browned. Is that supposed to be Ro? Or did the person responsible for the cover not read the book and just white-wash it?

The Deal:

When I heard that there was going to be a Sci-fi/Dystopian retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasian, did I raise my eyebrow in skepticism? HELLS NO!!! I was all OVER that business like white on rice!

Ever since The Reduction -- an experiment gone wrong, or act of God, depending on who's telling the story -- Luddites have been caring for the Reduced. But more and more of the Children Of the Reduced are being born without the limitations of speech and function their parents suffer. One such child is Kai, the son of the mechanic on the North Estate. He is also Elliot North's best friend.

But as they grow, Elliot feels it her Luddite duty to make sure the North Estate functions -- that the farms grow and the people are fed -- despite of her inattentive father's mismanagement, while Kai wants to leave the estate to seek his fortune among the free Post (Reductionists).

Years pass, and Elliot succeeds in keeping the farm alive (barely, and with actions that would make her Luddite ancestors turn over in their graves), and she still misses Kai every single day. When an opportunity to rent out her grandfather's old shipyards to the illustrious free Post, Admiral Innovation and his Cloud Fleet -- a group of famed explorers -- Elliot has no idea what she or the estate are in for. And that's before she comes face to familiar face with Captain Malakai Wentforth.

BFF Charm: Platinum Edition!

Elliot, you are absolutely wonderful. I respect you for choosing duty over your own heart's desires, even though you're sometimes misguided and think like the Luddite you were raised to be. I love your sense of self and your pride, even when I wanted you to lay it aside and TALK TO KAI, already! You're strong and smart and kind, and hold too much inside, just like me, and you're everything I could ever want in a BFF.  You're the kind of character I'd want my daughters to read, to have as a role model so they would grow to emulate you strength and kindness -- and your ability to change.  

I'd like to live on the estate next door to you so we could spend our days overseeing farms, and walking out to the ocean, and become gray hairs together, watching our children (or other people's children) and grandchildren grow. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Now generally, 8 would be a mighty high score for a book with absolutely no sexy times, or bosom heaving, or really even kissing. But it's the spirit of the thing, I tell ye! It's the steadfastness, the longing, and even the pain (that keeps both feet firmly planted in the soil of duty, so as to keep from getting all emo-y, thank you very much.) that makes the score so high, and fills the pages with epic hearts.

I also feel like I should let you in on a little secret: Perhaps it is because I read Persuasion first, but I feel about Captain Wentworth how most other ladies feel about Mr. Darcy. Oh, Captain Wentworth!  Anyway, Captain Wentforth is no disappointment.

Talky Talk: Prosetastic

Peterfreund captures the heart and the feel of Persuasion, while creating a fascinating world of her own, with sci-fi elements that felt like they'd be at home in an H. G. Wells novel. She left a trail of epistolary bread crumbs throughout the story to help us understand how the relationship between Elliot and Kai developed, and while these weren't my favorite at first, Peterfreund uses them well -- changing her character's individual voices as they grew, developing character as well as connection. And, of course, leading to THEEE LETTER.

Bonus Factor: Dystopia

Ah, there's nothing quite like Dystopia (done right) in the morning! And this one is definitely done right. I loved the stark puritanical-ness of life on the farm compared to the bright colors that arrived with the free posts and their sun carts.

Bonus Factor: Progress

I love a good Science vs. God debate, and this book has that at its foundation. Did humankind try to exalt itself above God and receive his judgement? Or was this all just a terrible genetic experiment gone wrong? While I have really strong opinions about genetically modified food and companies like Monsanto, I won't get on my soap box, because this is not a blog about Jenny's political beliefs, it is a blog about YA books. That said, Peterfreund had me asking myself whether or not I was being a bit of a Luddite in my beliefs. Is progress for the sake of progress dangerous, or is the risk of saving future lives worth it?

I think the illustrious Dr. Ian Malcolm from the highly scientific documentary, Jurassic Park, best sums it up: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Casting Call:

Even though he's not Mr. Darcy, I always pictured my Captain Wentworth as this:

Colin Firth as Captain Wentworth

However, this cast has to be a bit younger, so:

Alessandra Mastronardi as Elliot North

Thomas McDonnell as Captain Malakai Wentforth

Relationship Status: This Book I Once Loved's Younger Cousin

When I was a teen, I fell head over heels for this book's older cousin, Persuasion. We had a fantastic love affair that still makes me smile, though the book and I went our separate ways, like you do. Now, years and years later, I've just been reunited with FDSTS, who I only remembered as the little kid with braces who kept trying to hang out with us. My, how years change things. All grown up, this book is more in line with who I am now than its older cousin ever was, and suddenly, the few years age difference between us doesn't seem so bad…

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Harper Collins. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). For Darkness Shows The Stars is available now.

 

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Jenny Bird's photo About the Author: Jenny grew up on a steady diet of Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov and Star Wars novels. She has now expanded her tastes to include television, movies, and YA fiction.
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