Review of “For Darkness Shows the Stars” by Diana Peterfreund

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.

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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…..

Rating: 4/5

Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2012

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18 Responses

  1. OK so how did you put that together? Just happen to be listening to a little Sting one day? Cool. Well, honestly I wouldn’t have given this book a single glance because it just isn’t the type of thing I read. But I love Persuasion. Scary to think about a redux of that infamous letter. hope she did it justice!

  2. Whoa! I didn’t realize this book was based off of Persuasion. I am in the middle of reading Persuasion right now. I definitely want to read this book now!

  3. I’d like to read this one. I don’t read many retellings but I think it sounds interesting. I’m also in the mood for something like this. Glad you enjoyed it so much.

  4. I wasn’t a fan of Persuasion when I read it (though I was sick so I’m aware I should re-read it) however this book sounds really good and makes the original story seem so much more interesting. I love the idea of Luddites used in the future. The setting is completely different to Austen, which seemed weird at first, but making a classic the author’s own so often works more in their favour. Loving the title, the cover’s great too.

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever read Persuasion so I probably wouldn’t get the retelling aspect of the story. I’m still kind of iffy on the post-apocalyptic stuff so I’ll have to think about this one.

  6. I am so excited about this book, because I will be reading Persuasion this year, perhaps with a buddy, and then I have this to look forward to! It does sound like an excellent story, and one that is faithful without being pedantically similar. Excellent review today! I can’t wait to see what I think of it!

  7. lol I love your description. Sounds good!

  8. I have never read Persuasion…perhaps I should to that first.

  9. I really am going to have to get my hands on this book!

  10. Iiiiiinteresting. I could be in for this? I do like retellings of stories, although my preferences incline slightly toward fairy tale retellings more than redos of classic novels. On the other hand, Clueless remains possibly my favorite adaptation of anything, and that’s a Jane Austen adaptation.

  11. I love retellings but this not among my favorites. I’d have to agree with Jenny about Clueless being my favorite adaptation ever-so awesome!

  12. OOoooo, we can watch the movie Persuasion for FREE? cool. Thanks for the links. And even though, I know the word ‘feckless’ it makes me wonder why we don’t use the word ‘feck’. Wait, I probably know. Nevermind.

  13. I agree with you so much about retellings. It always surprises me when people say that they’re lazy or unoriginal – to me, the really creative part of telling a story is not really the general plot (as you say, there are only so many types of stories we can tell) but the details, the execution, and the particular angle the author chooses to highlight.

  14. I have been very mixed on whether or not to read this! I like retellings, I like Diana Peterfreund, but I LOVE Jane Austen. And, ::confession:: I am one of those prickly-possessive fans, you know? As in, I now hate Keira Knightley with the fire of a thousand blazing suns for her involvement in that debacle they dared call Pride and Prejudiced. But I love the BBC production of most of her books, and I really enjoy Clueless. And I even really liked what Peterfreund had to say about writing the letter on her blog…but, but, Persuasion is my favorite Austen! At least your review nudged me a little closer to giving it a read. :)

  15. I am captivated by your review on this one. Plus, the genius touch of music being associated to the story has me all excited!! I just posted a review with a movie/music clip too…as soon as I read a certain paragraph !6 Candles and the Thompson Twins popped immediately into my head. I must read this one!

  16. “a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, with a touch of Gone With the Wind and the lyrics of Sting.” How can one not want to try that???

  17. THIS is why we have book blogs. Not in a million years would I have picked this book up based on the cover or title but that first sentence of yours sold me. And since I’m reading “Persuasion” right now it would seem I should get it right now.

  18. Love Persuasion so I am sold. This isn’t a trilogy and you forgot to mention it is it?

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