For Darkness Shows the Stars is a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, with a touch of Gone With the Wind and the lyrics of Sting.
Personally, I love retellings. After all, there are only so many plot ideas. And classic beloved stories are classic and beloved because their authors have crafted these stories in ways that resonate with many people over a very long time. So why not elaborate on them?
If you know the story of Persuasion (which you can read for free online in a nice format here, or you can – better yet, in my opinion – watch the movie – the 2007 version is also free online here) you will recognize the names and situations of the main characters of this book even though it is set in a future world that has been altered by the disastrous consequences of genetic experimentation. But some things never change, such as the complex feelings that accompany the mating ritual.
Elliott North (think Anne Elliot from Persuasion) is eighteen: barely out of her teenage years, she virtually runs the baronial estate of her feckless father. The Norths are part of the “Luddite” class – a group of people at the apex of society who own the plantations and engage in lives of relative leisure thanks to the work of their slaves.
Four years earlier, Elliott passed up an opportunity to run off with her childhood love, Kai. Kai is actually one of her father’s slaves. While some of the slaves are “Reduced,” meaning that they suffered intellectual impairment from the time of genetic experiments, others are called “Posts” because, in spite of having Reduced ancestry, they were born and developed normally. Nevertheless, they are considered to be low status – still, in fact, slave material. Educating Posts is discouraged, lest they get “ideas” about freedom.
The Luddites are opposed to all advanced technology, since they believe this is what destroyed the world in the first place. But it seems impossible to keep ideas for progress and the future out of the heads of people, even Luddites like Elliot North. And it’s hard as well to keep dreams of freedom from people like the Posts. When Kai said he wanted to run off, Elliott was devastated, but she felt she couldn’t accompany him. In spite of her feelings for him, she couldn’t bring herself to forsake her responsibilities.
After all this time of not knowing if Kai was dead or alive, Elliott can scarcely believe it when Kai returns. But now he is Captain Malakai Wentforth (ala Captain Wentworth of Persuasion), the pilot of a ship being built by the Free Posts at Elliot’s grandfather’s boatyard.
And Kai is cold towards Elliot; he cannot forgive her for not going with him. After a short while, it even looks like he may marry one of Kai’s neighbors. Moreover, he is about to sail off in his new ship, the Argos, and see the stars. And as for Elliot? She envisions for herself a future of being trapped forever on the farm, silencing “any voice in her heart that screamed for more.”
Evaluation: This book has one of the cutest openings ever. I love the way the author expanded the role of epistles from Persuasion and made it into a unifying trope for the book. The characters are all well-drawn. And the ending? It’s very Jane-Austen-esque. As a bonus for the reader, the author rewrites Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne, and does a great job of it. And after the letter, cue up Sting’s “Ghost Story” and see how well it puts to music what happens in the story…..
Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2012