Review of “For Darkness Shows the Stars”

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As part of an Austenesque reading challenge on Goodreads, I’ve decided this year to read as much Austenesque as I can. I’m also a middle school English teacher, so part of my professional responsibilities include keeping up on the latest in middle grade and young adult fiction. (This is one of the best parts of my job, BTW.) For this challenge, I’ve decided to combine my passions for both Austenesque and YA to seek out books that are both. I started reading For Darkness Shows the Stars in December and just finished today. I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed. I enjoyed this book a lot!

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund is an unusual and well-written reimagining of Persuasion, my second favorite Jane Austen novel.
What I liked:

– Well-developed characters, particularly the protagonist, Elliot North. Peterfreund beautifully retained the original Anne Elliot’s reserve and emotional inner life. As in the original, Elliot North harbors one regret: that she didn’t run away with her best friend and first love, Kai, when she was 14. But Elliot and Kai came from different worlds – Elliot was the daughter of a lord, and Kai was the son of his servant. Four years later, Kai returns to Elliot’s life no longer an impoverished slave, but a wealthy sailor and explorer. Elliot is stunned and ashamed and oh-so-mournful. Although 18 years old, Elliot is mature and self-possessed beyond her years. She is a capable farmer, mechanic, and landowner, who is essentially running her father’s estate while he wastes the family’s money on extravagances like building racetracks in the wheat fields.

– The dystopian world Peterfreund creates. I gotta admit, I’m pretty tired of the badass-teenage-girl-dismantles-her-entire-society trope that so many of the YA books in the genre use (and reuse and reuse). In this novel, Peterfreund paints the picture of a post-apocalyptic society where most modern-day technology was not only destroyed, but where its re-invention is also banned. The Luddite leaders of this society claim that technology like genetic modification practically destroyed humanity, and is therefore evil and against God. This society is divided rigidly into castes with the Luddites at the top and the Reduced, mentally impaired humans, are at the bottom. Smack in the middle are the rising class of of the Post-Reduced, of Children of the Reduced as the Luddites call them. The Posts are humans that have been born with the same intellectual abilities as Luddites but are still bidden to work as slaves for the Luddites. There are many bad things about this world – namely the rigid caste system and enslavement of the Posts/Reduceds by the Luddites – but this is a world painted in shades of grey, in which some Luddites can be good and responsible leaders of society. Elliot North is one of these. She truly cares about the people under her responsibility; everything she does is for their wellbeing whether it’s breaking the rules of society to graft new forms of hybrid wheat or remaining on her father’s estate to care for them instead of pursuing her heart’s desire.

– The gorgeous writing and beautiful prose. This book was just such a pleasure to read.

What I didn’t like so much:

– The book started off slow. I almost gave up on it, but decided to keep plugging through once Kai re-entered the picture. The book picks up after this.

– The decision to make Elliot North 18 years old. It didn’t seem necessary to me and, in fact, I believe something was lost from the original in making Elliot so young. Part of what makes Persuasion such a captivating read is that the protagonist, Anne Elliot, is basically beyond marrying age. It makes her story much more melancholy and her struggle so much more relatable. To Peterfreund’s credit, this is a YA novel, and there are other elements in this story that add to the tension between Elliot and Kai (some of these are spoilers), but I just wished Elliot had been older.

Give this one a go. It’s unique and refreshing as both a YA dystopian novel and a Jane Austen re-imagining.