Goodreads: For Darkness Shows the Stars
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #1
Years ago Elliot North refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart Kai because she believed her duty lay with her family’s estate. After all, as a member of the upper class, she has a responsiblity to care for those affected by the Reduction–the genetic mutation that caused the world to crumble and nearly all scientific advancement to stop. Now Kai has returned as a successful explorer and Elliot suddenly wants to share his world, the world that embraces change and dares to think that the Reduction is finally over. But Kai remains bitter and distant, and Elliot fears to leave all her old values behind. A science fiction retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
For Darkness Shows the Stars provides a fresh take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion by locating the characters in a post-apocalyptic world where a genetic mutation caused the cessation of all scientific and technological development. Now the descendants of those people who did not carry the mutated gene–a segment of society known as Luddites– rule over the descendants of those did–these latter call themselves the Post-Reductionists, or Posts, believing that the mutation has now disappeared. But the Posts still labor on Luddite plantations at best as tenant farmers and at worst as slaves. They are not supposed to leave and it is said that those who did encounter only hardship and death. All this sets up the forbidden romance between Luddite Elliot North (Persuasion‘s Anne Elliot) and the Post boy Kai (Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth), who labors on her father’s estate.
It is not exactly a new formula–rich girl meets poor boy–but Peterfreund keeps it fresh by introducing ideological differences between the two. Whereas Kai dreams of a better life and of a world improved through the kind of technology and medicine it once enjoyed, Elliot fears to break from her family’s position and embrace progress. Elliot is far from some paranoid conservative, however. Her perspective gives her balance, allowing her to recognize the potential dangers in unchecked experimentation where Kai would accept all progress without questioning the ethics involved in the methods or the uncertainty of positive results.
These debates are the strong point of the novel and far more interesting than the troubled romance between Elliot and Kai. Like many literary couples, their troubles begin through a miscommunication that need never have occurred in the first place had Elliot been articulate or had Kai bothered to ask for clarification. I find this premise weaker than the one offered originally by Austen–that Anne did not want to go against her family’s wishes–but I suppose it’s supposed to make Elliot look high-minded and moral. The path of their romance only gets increasingly rockier, however, and I found Kai’s waverings inexplicable. One moment he’s maligning Elliot to all his friends out of bitterness and the next he’s trying to woo her. I questioned whether Elliot should even take such a man back.
The depiction of the other characters is also slightly troubling. Elliot’s father is a cruel man who treats the Posts on his estate like slaves. Because Elliot is secretly kind to the Posts, however, they all love her and serve her cheerfully and even refuse to run away to a better life because, if they did, poor Elliot would be all alone. I could understand if a segment of the Posts feared the unknown and preferred the trouble they knew to the one they didn’t. I could understand if some of them did not want to leave their own families. But I think we have moved past the point where it is acceptable to portray characters who are, in all but name, slaves as happy with their lot and willing to give up a better lot for the love of their masters.
So, in the end, I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved the concept of a science-fiction-type Jane Austen retelling, but I could not swallow the romance and I found the depiction of many of the Posts troubling. The sequel is a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel with a female Pimpernel and I find that intriguing and am thus willing to try it. I hope, however, that the introduction of a different society will mean no offensive depictions of lower-class members. And I hope the love interest is actually kind.