For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Genre: Fiction, young adult, post-apocalyptic, dystopia, romance, retelling, I cried
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Summary: After a war sealed their islands off from the rest of the world, the Luddites were tasked with taking care of the Reduced to appease an angry God. Despite this social divide, Elliot, the Luddite daughter of Baron North befriends a Post-Reductionist servant on the North Estate named Kai. Brought together by their radical world view and their desire to break free of their social constraints, the duo reunites eight years after their last meeting in this post-apocalyptic re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Some books pull you in with their covers. This is one of those stellar novels where the gorgeous outside reflects the fabulously written inside. Not that our heroine has time to put on beautiful dresses and dance in the cosmos. Judge away bookies! Of course it wasn’t just the artwork (thank you to Eric Smith from Quirk Books for sharing the photo on Instagram!), but also the premise, specifically that this was based off Persuasion set in a post-apocalyptic/dystopic world, that really pulled me in. While I didn’t read Austen’s last novel, I fully trust her to create a romance I can root for. It did not disappoint, no need to spin in your grave, Jane.
While not my first introduction to Ms. Austen, this novel was my first time reading a full length Diana Peterfreund book. I was surprised to hear Peterfreund wrote a series called the “Killer Unicorn Books”, Rampant and Ascendant which I had never read nor heard of, although I love the series name. I should however note, that she wrote one of the few unicorn stories in Zombies vs. Unicorns that I enjoyed titled: “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”. Probably set in the same universe. How could you not love a story with that title? I can admit that even though I am most certainly Team Zombie.
The main thrust of the story revolves around Elliot and Kai, two people on different sides of the social spectrum. Elliot North is the rich[er] daughter who lives on the North Estate, and Kai the servant who works on the estate. The narrative is interspersed with their childhood letters to one another before Kai leaves to gain his freedom and Elliot stays behind to care for the estate and protect the servants from her maniacal father and dimwitted sister. It’s your typical, fall in love with boy, boy leaves and comes back eight years later and acts like a jerk because you didn’t run away with him story. Typical.
In terms of the connection to Persuasion, the similarities mainly relate to the characters. Both are stories about stalled love, and for the most part, Elliot and Kai’s storyline follows that of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth pretty closely. Well, minus the sci-fi premise and the fact that Kai is a servant. Both girl’s families owns estates, and their love interests leave and return as much wealthier ship captains, one in the Royal Navy and one in the newly formed Cloud Fleet. Kai also changes his name to Malakai Wentworth, tying him to his Regency Era counterpart. I’m sure there’s many more connections, but that’s all I have for you without reading the source material. I would have done it already, but I’ve promised myself I wouldn’t read more Austen until I finally finish Jane Eyre- which I put down after I read halfway through it in 2009. Whoops.
Underlying this main story is the incredibly in-depth premise of this new world, which it’s safe to assume isn’t anywhere on earth. Or if it is it’s so far in the future that it’s not recognizable to us at all. Currently, the world is divided into three groups of people, the Luddites, the Reduced, and the CORs (Children of the Reduced)/Post-Reductions/Posts. Many years before the story, the world was minimized to two islands cut off from civilization during the War of the Lost. The Luddites went into hiding while the Lost waged war on the world, which saved them from extinction. When they emerged years later from their cave dwellings (yes, caves) they took over the world. Although not as nicely as they think they did. Isn’t that the way it always works?
According to the Luddites (an obviously religious group), the Lost were playing God, genetically engineering plants, animals, and themselves. Every baby was given a procedure known as the ERV, which genetically flipped a switch (in science terms) to allow the human body to use the maximum amount of skills they were gifted with in their DNA. However, as a result of these procedures, the Lost eventually began giving birth to unintelligent, mute children known as the Reduced. When they realized their people were literally lost- Milton reference alert!- and would be wiped out, they waged war on the world. The Luddites took over, taking care of the Reduced, which involved basically turning them into slaves. To keep out of God’s wrath, the Luddites refrain from any kind genetically altered food, wear only naturally dyed clothing, and are pretty behind on medical technology. Because God wouldn’t want you to save your people if it meant using heathen technology that plays God. But enslaving your fellow man is okay. Damn Luddites.
Over time, the Reduced began giving birth to fully intelligent children, Post-Reductionists. Despite being intellectually equal with the Luddites, these Posts as they prefer to be called keep the same status as their Reduced parents and belong to the estate on which they are born. There’s a lot of slavery metaphors in this novel, from the unequal status, the use of the phrase CORs (Children of the Reduced), a derogatory term used by Luddites, and the idea of being able to own people. The fact that Elliot is in charge of the North Estate should not escape your interest either, it’s not just named that because her family’s last name is North. It’s a lot of subtext and back story to take in, but I can say I’ve never read about such a uniquely interesting post-apocalyptic society before. Bravo for that!
Thankfully it’s not all gloom and doom, as people are growing more and more open to free Posts. This group is known for their brightly colored clothing (a slap in the face to the naturally dyed Luddites), their more advanced technology, and of course the names they give themselves. Special shout out goes to Phoenix Andromeda, who has the most ridiculous and kick-ass literary name of all time. When Kai, now Captain Malakai Wentworth, returns to the North Estate, he brings with him some other free Posts who belong to the Cloud Fleet. The head of the fleet is Nicodemus Innovation, who leads his ships to neighboring islands to bring back long forgotten technologies to the mainland. This is particularly dangerous since after the War of the Lost, compasses ceased to work. Why? I have no idea. Science?
-BOOK COVER PORN!
-Classic Jane Austen, heart breaking, unrequited romance
-Imaginative, intriguing dystopic world- one of the more interesting ones
-Metaphor for slavery, social distinctions, and breaking the social mold
-All the feelings, equal parts great premise and bite your nails tale of romance
-There is no bad, only Zuul!
This is one of the more original retellings I’ve read. It’s not a mash-up and it doesn’t take the same characters and re-imagine them in a wholly different setting (i.e. in a steampunk world or one with zombies), instead, it takes the basic framework of the story and sets in a fully fleshed out world. One which doesn’t deter from the main story, the romance of Elliot and Kai/Anne and Frederick. Suffice it so say, I came for the premise, but stayed for the romance.