Thursday 18 September 2014

#CBR6 Book 99: "For Darkness Shows the Stars" by Diana Peterfreund

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Laziness makes me resort to the Goodreads synopsis once again:

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 the 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 are 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 include renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wenthforth - 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 bought this book in an e-book sale a while back, based on the enthusiastic review on Forever Young Adult. Then, as so often is the case, I forgot all about it. This summer, my fellow Cannonballers scotsa1000 and bonnie both reviewed it excellently and reminded me that I owned it and should probably do myself the favour of reading it.

I suspect the book works well as a piece of dystopian young adult even for readers that have never read Persuasion. It may possibly also tempt younger readers to check out Jane Austen's classic novel. Ever since her mother passed, Elliot has been working herself nearly to death, trying to take care of the workers on her family's estate, while her father and sister ignore their increasingly dire financial situation and live a life of indolence and leisure. Elliot's father thinks nothing of exploiting his dependents or destroying a field of valuable crops to build himself a race track. When the famed admiral of the Cloud Fleet offers a substantial amount amount of money to rent her grandfather's home and ship yard, she has no choice but to agree.

She never expected to see the boy she loved all grown up into an imposing and famous man, now a lauded and wealthy explorer. Born on the same day, Kai and Elliot became friends as children, despite the difference in their stations and Elliot's father's objections. Kai initially only wanted to become the estate's mechanic, but developed more radical ideas as he grew older, finally running away in search of a better life when his life on the estates became too stifling. Not realising that Elliot rejected him not because she didn't love him, but because she knew the estate and all the people on it would be doomed if she left, the returned Malakai treats her coldly and tries to avoid her as much as possible.

My main complaint with this novel is probably how reticent and self-sacrificing Elliot stays throughout the story. She's clearly strong, responsible, loyal and brave, but I desperately wanted her to speak up and fight for herself and her happiness. Of course, Anne Elliot doesn't confront Wenthworth in Persuasion, but pines dolefully, so it's not surprising that Elliot never shouts angrily at Kai to make him realise why she couldn't go with him and why he's being so unreasonable towards her. Peterfreund never entirely convinced me as to why Kai was a worthy romantic hero. Kai acts cold and unpleasant for so much of the book, with less than entirely believable characterisation or exposition showing why Elliot loved him so much.

The world building of the book is excellent, though. A world where scientific experiments and genetic engineering has pretty much wiped out humanity is an interesting concept as was the social order established afterwards. It's quite clear that the pretty much feudal society here needs to evolve and change, though and Kai and his new Post-Reductionist friends show the fascinating possibilities the future might hold, if people are brave enough to try to change.

My next review will be of the companion novel to this book - based on another of my favourite classics - The Scarlet Pimpernel. I'm now also very interested in checking out other of Peterfreund's books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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