Through no fault of seventeen-year-old Elliot, nothing ever seems to change on the North estate. After her mother died, Elliot took over the books, the family debt, and the responsibility of managing the ancient lands of her Luddite ancestors. For this harvest season, her father Baron North is only interested in his racetrack, razing one of Elliot’s more precious fields of wheat to make room for it. To say Elliot was disappointed is an understatement. Between importing food for the Post workers, seeing Reduction children grow thin, and watching another year pass by without a harvest festival, she will be scrimping by yet again. Understandably, Eliot is forced to choose duty to the estate just as she did four years ago when she refused to run away with Kai, one of the Post workers and her childhood sweetheart. To make ends meet, Elliot will out of sheer necessity allow the Cloud Fleet to rent her grandfather’s boathouse and shipyard. Little does she know that Kai belongs to that renowned and mysterious group of explorers, having renamed himself Captain Malakai Wentforth. Nearly unrecognizable in appearance, Kai’s anger at being refused by Elliot is unabated, yet Elliot loves him still. But when she discovers how much he’s really changed, even as Kai’s feelings towards her begin to thaw can she accept him and leave her Luddite heritage behind?
Guys, I have been giddily anticipating this book since I first read the words “post-apocalyptic Persuasion retelling” on Diana Peterfreund’s blog. The excitement only intensified when I saw the dreamy cover for the first time. As many of you know, I never hesitate to answer the dreaded “favorite book” question with Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I’ve been rereading it once a year since I fell head-over-heels in love with it during graduate school. I identify with quiet, sure Anne and her deep regret every time. I also hold my breath every time I hear Anne defend her gender on the topic of who loves deepest and longest and die a swoon-death each time I read the utter romantic perfection that is THE LETTER. High expectations much? But despite the height of its pedestal I was confident Persuasion could be retold just as compellingly, especially in the separating guise of post-apocalyptic/sci-fi YA.
I liked so much of For Darkness Shows the Stars, starting with the post-apocalyptic premise. Because I didn’t explain it above the Reduction was a genetic enhancement gone wrong years ago that decimated humanity leaving only the upper class Luddites; those who rejected technology and genetic tampering, and the Reduced; those severely mentally impaired as a result, behind. This is a great impossible love setup for Elliot, a Luddite, and Kai, a Post-Reductionist, or child of the lower class Reduced yet unaffected by the curse. Their story happens at a time when Posts are leaving the large Luddite estates to become free and decide their own fates. As is expected Kai jumps at his chance for a better life. Though there is the possibility he will not be able to find work, a possibility that will haunt Elliot in the years to come, his life is more likely to improve. Elliot, though she will have Kai, stands to lose everything if she leaves, not only the family estate she runs but also the lives of the Posts and Reduced workers the land supports. Being the responsible person she is, it was no contest for Elliot, and while she may not have the same regret that Anne feels for refusing Wentworth’s proposal, her agony after losing Kai is just as great. Kai and Elliot’s first stilted meeting after four years is palpably painful. I felt the thick awkwardness that crowded the sitting room of the boathouse. In my opinion this is what a successful retelling does – it becomes a work of its own while evoking similar emotions felt in the original. I liked the little things which set it apart – the letters Kai and Elliot leave in the barn knot hole growing up; strong, capable Elliot; and the ancient North “star” cavern. The writing is easy to read yet meaningful and many who haven’t read Jane Austen before should be inspired to read the source material after finishing. Unfortunately, this is where For Darkness Shows the Stars started missing for me. Because of my deep love for and close acquaintance with Persuasion I couldn’t stop comparing the two, which made, for no fault of its own, this retelling predictable. I read on, waiting to be amazed in the same way I was the first time I read Persuasion and I couldn’t help feeling letdown when I wasn’t surprised by the plot or moved by the romance. This isn’t to say that I was completely unsatisfied by the latter half or the conclusion, only that the book was hit and miss for me after Kai and Elliot first meet. For example, the letter did not nearly have the same effect as the original and I was left uneasy by Elliot’s easy acceptance of the new Kai, but one of the final scenes between Kai and Elliot was unexpectedly sweet in the way it contented me. While overall this didn’t work for me, I am in the minority and I would still recommend For Darkness Shows the Stars to Jane Austen newbies and (with reserve) to Persuasion groupies as a well-written retelling, individual yet true to the characters and the overall feel of the original novel.
For Darkness Shows the Stars is due out on June 12.