Whenever a writer takes on a retelling of a classic, I get nervous. I probably shouldn’t, since so much of the media we enjoy these days’ takes it roots in just this type of storytelling. Regardless, when I originally heard the description of For Darkness Shows the Stars as a post-apocalyptic retelling of Austen’s Persuasion I was not immediately sold.
Nevertheless, this book made a believer out of me. So much so that I’ve already downloaded the accompanying short story to my Nook and I’ll be reading it soon. (Edited 12/22 to add that I loved Among the Nameless Stars and suggest you read it before FDStS since it helps build out the world helping to alleviate some of the problems I had.)
I don’t know how I got confused considering what lovely reviews were written about this book as part of the Cannonball Read by Malin, Bonnie and Scootsa1000 but I thought this book was set in space (in my feeble defense the cover art is gorgeous and totally looks like it could be a space opera cover) so I had some reticence in getting started. Fear not, it isn’t in space (or conversely, I’m sorry, it’s not in space) it’s set in out distant future when things have gone to shit. Once I got into this plot, I was in.
There were some things that kept me on the fence through the first 50 pages or so of this post-apocalyptic dystopia. A lot of the details about just what kind of apocalypse we’re dealing with were difficult for me to parse in the beginning, and the terminology the reader needs to learn in the beginning seemed daunting. However once I got comfortable with the idea that advanced genetic manipulation had led to a large portion of humanity being born in a ‘reduced’ state – with limited speech and understanding, and thought to be unable to care for them selves and were now gathered on estates run by families of those unaffected by the reduction I was intrigued.
The small portion of society which had shunned the genetic manipulation, known as Luddites, have for generation been the only typical humans who have shunned nearly all of our modern technology in an attempt to make amends for the perceived overstepping of bounds that led to the reduction. That is, until the Reduced starting having children of normal capabilities and intellect, known as Posts. Peterfruend’s story places the bones of Persuasion over this period of turmoil, not unlike Austen’s own early 1800s. Our protagonist is the younger daughter of one estate, who is doing her best to keep her people alive while her father and sister seem to be doing their best to run everything into the ground.
Is this a perfect novel? No. There are details that are thrown in and then not properly explored. I understand that Peterfreund’s attempts to clarify just how terrifying the Reduction would have been, but the ensuing wars, and their description, did not land for me. And when Kai, the male lead, makes his reappearance his secrets are telegraphed for at least a hundred pages before the big reveal. But the main thrust of the book, Kai as a Post going out to live a life of his choosing and attaining success, and Elliot’s struggle with her very identity as a Luddite throughout are fascinatingly good reads.
The world Peterfreund has built to play around in is full of unexpected possibilities and I’m looking forward to what else she is able to do in this sand box.