By Diana Peterfreund
“In every letter, in every line, she saw him. He hadn't changed - he'd only grown into the man he'd meant to be.”For Darkness Shows the Stars is a futuristic dystopian/post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. It kind of blows me away that I just typed that sentence. (In a good way!)
― Diana Peterfreund, For Darkness Shows the Stars
Here's the deal: some time ago (in the future - her past, our future) humanity got a little out of control with the DNA engineering and splicing and whatnot sciencey stuff, and while trying to make a better human, ended up making a "reduced" human. Pretty much any baby born at this point was severely mentally handicapped. According to the lore, the folks realized that the world was going down the crapper, so they decided to just destroy everything. Enter the Luddites, who were anti-technology/anti-screwing-around-with-natural-stuff. Because they were au naturale, they weren't affected by the genetic engineering gone wrong, and survived the destruction by hiding away until it was over.
Fast forward to present day. The Luddites are in charge of things, including the care and maintenance of both the Reduced and the land. It's been a while since they came out of their hidey-holes and things are running again, though according to the Luddite traditions, which are basically don't screw around with nature and don't do anything that hasn't been done before. Another change is that the Reduced have started having babies that weren't mentally challenged. These folks are called Posts, or Post-Reduced. They're not so happy with the status quo, because they're mostly treated like property.
Enter Elliot North and Kai (aka Captain Malakai Wentforth). This is a YA novel, so the Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth love affair timeline has been moved up. Elliot was born a Luddite, the daughter of the Baron, and the only member of the family working to keep the farm and its workers thriving. Kai was born a Post to another Post on the North estate, and grew up as an apprentice to his mechanic father. Kai and Elliot grew up together and were best friends. They also fell in love when they were only 14 years old. Things got bad after Elliot's mother died and there was no one to curb Baron North's bad and negligent habits. Kai cut and run; Elliot was supposed to go with him, but she realized she couldn't leave the people under her care alone under the thumb of her father.
Four years later, Kai returns with money and some other Posts to stay at Elliot's grandfather's estate to build a ship that will allow them to explore what's left of the world beyond their island (which I believe is supposed to be New Zealand, or at least New Zealand-esque, I'm not entirely sure). Romantic tension ensues.
The twists from the original story are really interesting. Peterfreund created an interesting world, one that balanced a futuristic dystopian society, but also blended with events in Persuasion in a way that made them plausible in this setting. She captured the romantic angst that so engaged me in Persuasion, but in a way that seemed (mostly) realistic to two 18-year-olds. The moral questions of genetic testing and experimentation in people, animals, and food sources should have felt heavy handed for all the attention it received, but it felt mostly part of the crisis in the plot rather than moralizing.
I loved Persuasion. It's hands-down my favorite Austen novel, and this book really made me want to pick it back up for another read. Anne and Frederick's love story...just...unngg! I love it! I felt a lot of that same gut-clenching emotion over Elliot and Kai's love story. I'm normally not a big fan of post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories, but this story takes place when the world is rebuilding itself and change is underway, and without the hero and heroine being the major catalyst for that change, though they were a part of it. I liked that a lot. Things I didn't like included Baron North, though not the way Peterfreund wrote him, but the way a reader dislikes the villain. Seriously, Baron North takes on Professor Delores Umbridge style loathing.
All in all, I really enjoyed this novel. While there is a sequel, I think Peterfreund has been rather ingenious with the way she's going about the series: For Darkness is a stand-alone novel. The sequel has new characters who live in the same world, and this one based on The Scarlet Pimpernel. I kinda love that. I'm also loving that she's retelling classics that haven't been retold a gazillion times. And while this novel doesn't get the same level of love that I reserve for Persuasion, it still gets rather a lot from me. Highly recommended.