Cover of Across a Star-Swept Sea, featuring a blonde woman in a blue dress standing in an ocean wave

About the Book

Title: Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars #2)
Published: 2013

Cover Story: Wearable Water
BFF Charms: Torn x 2, Hell No
Talky Talk: We Get It Already
Bonus Factor: Scenery
Factor: Mental Illness
Anti-Bonus Factor:  Reign of Terror
Relationship Status: No Flutternotes, Please

Cover Story: Wearable Water

The ocean waves blending into the model’s gown are pretty, but this cover is very oddly framed. One of her arms is cut off and her face is squeezed way up into the top right corner where you almost miss it. Also, Persis is a Pacific Islander who dyes her hair, not a white blonde.

The Deal:

Just like For Darkness Shows the Stars is a sci-fi retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, this companion novel is a retelling of the French Revolution novel The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, set in the same universe. This one is also gender-flipped: the spy hero, Sir Percy Blakeney, is now a teenage girl named Persis Blake who uses a flower-themed code name – “Wild Poppy” here, instead of “Scarlet Pimpernel” – to secretly save people from persecution by the violent regime of the nation bordering hers. Instead of guillotining dissidents, however, this regime sentences them to “Reduction”, which means taking a drug that limits their mental capacity. Justen Helo, a medic, is dedicated to finding an antidote to the Reduction drug, and Persis has the political connections he needs to support his research. Faking a romantic relationship for PR reasons isn’t in either of their plans, especially when their feelings for each other start to become real.

BFF Charms: Natalie Imbruglia x2, Hell No

BFF charm with Natalie Imbruglia's face.

Persis, a.k.a. the Wild Poppy, is an interesting but difficult protagonist. The gender flip makes it hit differently when she pretends to be silly and fashion-obsessed; even though she’s doing this on purpose so people will underestimate her, it still hurts when they do – especially Justen, her fake-but-not-totally-fake boyfriend. Also, as heroic as her spy games are, they’re still making her paranoid. She keeps thinking the worst of people, even those who have already proved themselves on her side.

As for Justen, a medic who is disillusioned with the revolution in his country, while I admire his drive to help the sick refugees, I’m still annoyed by the way he looks down on Persis for her interest in fashion and parties. He can see with his own eyes how valuable her skills are at court, so why? I thought he was supposed to be smart.

Hell No BFF Charm in Flames

Vania Aldred is a fanatical revolutionary soldier hunting down the Wild Poppy. The first time we see her, sparring hand-to-hand with a cadet in the training grounds, and is so afraid of losing that she stings her opponent with a neurotoxin and passes it off as “teaching a lesson”.  This says it all.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

“Fake dating” can be a fun trope in fiction, but I always find it hard to believe that a relationship can last if it’s built on lies. Persis and Justen share some witty banter and intense physical chemistry, but all the layers of pretense and distrust between them got on my nerves.

Talky Talk: We Get It Already

Persis is pretending, Justen is judgmental, Vania is vindictive, yes, we know. You don’t have to mention it on practically every page. The pseudo-science involving Reduction etc. are also a little long and complicated for me. 

Bonus Factor: Scenery

Landscape of New Zealand, with a mountain range in the background and a blue lake surrounded by green land

New Pacifica sounds so lush and warm and colorful, especially since I’m writing this as a Canadian in early March. If it weren’t for the politics, I’d love to take a vacation there.

Factor:  Mental Illness

A man with an attentive expression sits on a brown leather chair holding an open note pad

I couldn’t name this as a bonus factor, but there are some thoughtful discussions about how mental illness affects a patient’s family, and why it shouldn’t be stigmatized. 

Anti-Bonus Factor: Reign of Terror

The Galatean revolution isn’t far behind the French Revolution that inspired Orczy’s original novel in terms of violence and fanaticism. 

Relationship Status: No Flutternotes, Please

Flutternotes are flying coded messages made of sugar that are processed through a port in the user’s hand. They’re an ingenious concept and pretty to look at, but can also drain your body’s energy if you’re not careful. I admit that this book had a similar effect on me.

Literary Matchmaking

For Darkness Shows The Stars (For Darkness Shows The Stars #1)

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund is the companion novel. Its protagonists, Elliott and Kai, play a cameo role here.

Renegades (Renegades #1)

Renegades by Marissa Meyer also features secret identities and social injustice.

Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray also features an island setting and teenage girls who are underestimated because of their beauty.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received no compensation for this review. Across a Star-Swept Sea is available now.

Regina Peters works in the video game industry, but her favourite imaginary worlds are on paper. She lives in Montreal, Canada, with her family.