Gentle reader, I have a confession to make, a shameful one for a Jane Austen lover: I have never read Persuasion. I know, I know, it’s shocking. I can’t explain it; somehow in the depths of my classical education, I fell for Elizabeth and Darcy, Elinor and Edward, etc., but never got around to Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth.Therefore, I didn’t have any advanced hints for the plot of For Darkness Shows the Stars, the new YA, postaplocalyptic retelling of Persuasion by Rampant Reads favorite Diana Peterfreund. I think this actually gave me an advantage over more learned readers. I love a good reworking of Austen (no one can deny the brilliance of Clueless) and this one had a ton of hooks for me: awesome author, fantastic title, intriguing concept, and an Austen base. Diana had me at hello.
Let’s start with the world of the story: on what is presumably a future Earth, geneticists made a terrible error in trying to improve humanity. Instead, they created Reduction – the majority of humanity losing a huge part of their brain power, unable to speak, barely able to think. The only people who escaped are now known as the Luddites, a religious community who rejected technology and hid in underground caves on one island nation while humanity crumbled. Now, the Luddites are the ruling class, with the Reduced acting as their servants under the guise of the Luddites protection.
But things are changing. The Reduced are giving birth to generations of children who are unaffected by the Reduction and are challenging their lower status, calling themselves Posts. More importantly, the Posts are rejecting the Luddites outlawing of technology, threatening the social structure that has been in place and presumably, kept humanity safe. And some Posts have some very frightening secrets.
At the heart of the story lies Elliot North, a Luddite young woman doing her best to keep her family’s farm estate intact while burdened with a father who only cares about his comfort (and doesn’t mind spending all their money to get what he wants), and a sister who only wants to have nice gowns and socialize with the neighbors. Even more difficult, Elliot is also dealing with heartbreak: four years before, her best friend, a Post stablehand named Kai had asked her to run away with him. Elliot chose her home and duty over love, and has been heartbroken ever since. When a group of Post explorers asks if they can use her grandfather’s boatwright estate to work on some new ships, who is with them but Kai, grown into a wealthy hero but with all the anger still over Elliot’s refusal and with something very different all the Posts seem to be trying to hide. But Elliot has a secret of her own, one that could threaten everything she holds dear.
Ok, hooked yet? In this book, Diana sets up a society that echoes Regency England beautifully. The Luddites are the English gentry, with their sprawling manors and estates full of servants. The Posts are the servant class and in particular, members of the British armed forces, where even low-born men could earn glory and riches from fighting in the Napoleonic wars. The Austen base is evident all through the novel, especially in the way Diana writes – there is an elegance, a way she uses description, and the characters’ dialog that all feels very familiar to Austen fans. Familiar, but not mimicking, though – this is very much Diana’s work.
There are a lot of things I loved about this book. The world she creates is fascinating, especially how it ties in to our world today. People born in the last 20 years, especially teens, take for granted how much genetic experimentation we live with every day; super crops, experimental medications, even altering our DNA. Diana takes that reality and shows both the advantages and the dangers that most people probably don’t even think about. I also love seeing a society in transition, how the status quo reacts to new and possibly threatening classes of people rising up to challenge and take their due. There is so much to this book that I can’t say for fear of spoilers, but trust me, GOOD STUFF here.
I’m a sucker for Regency details, like house parties, the antics of the ton, dances at Almack’s (I read a lot of Regency romances. Check out the Bridgerton books by Julia Quinn, they are DELIGHTFUL). We get a bunch of this world’s equivalent events in this story. I especially love a particular picnic scene with Elliot, the Posts, and her neighbors, one of which is a lovely young woman who appears to have captured Kai’s attention – cue jealousy! and heartfelt confessions from the girl to Elliot who has to pretend to be sympathetic! Pure Austen/Regency deliciousness. (Also a MAJOR plot development happens there – it is seriously nail-biting.)
One of Diana’s major strengths as a writer is her characters, especially her women and girls, and this book is full of beautifully rendered people. Elliot is strong and determined, knowing she made the choice she had to in order to protect the people who depend on her. Her other best friend, a Reduced girl named Ro, is a heart-breaking example of what the Reduction did to people. And Kai, stubborn and proud and defiant, reminds me of the best and worst of Mr. Darcy. There are so many great characters that it would take way too long to describe them all.
My one nit-pick is that the book could have used a bit of tightening up. The story takes some time to get going (though once it does, it really hums along), and there is a lot of time spent on Elliot worrying about her wheat. It’s a pretty major plot point from almost the first page, but as a reader you pick up on that pretty quickly, so you don’t really need Elliot voicing it for you over and over.
I am so glad I read this book and I’m so glad Diana wrote it. Even though it’s a retelling of a classic, the story’s themes fit right in to her previous works. I can’t wait to see what she does next.