Friday, June 13, 2014

For Darkness Shows The Stars by Diana Peterfreund

I can't remember who recommended this book to me, but it was recommended as a good retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. So whoever you are, thanks!

For Darkness Shows the Stars is about Elliot, a luddite who is trying to save her family estate while her worthless father and snobbish sister continually impede her efforts. One day, after having been reduced to renting out part of the estate, she discovers that one of the renters was her childhood friend/love interest Kai, now going by the name Malakai. Of course, since this is a retelling of Persuasion, he pretends not to be interested in her, and so on.

What is unique about this book would be its premise. The premise of this book is as far as can be from Persuasion. In this world, mankind has had tinkered with DNA manipulation too much, resulting in a catastrophic accident where most of mankind were Reduced (mentally reduced). The only ones to survive were the Luddites, who had shunned DNA manipulation.

Personally, I loved this. It helped turn the book from a mere-retelling into a story of its own. It made the difference between Elliot and Kai stark from the beginning, and brought in social issues (for example, should normal functioning children of the Reduced have the same rights as Luddites?). This premise had so much potential.

And yet, the premise turned out to be its achilles heel. The book never fully dealt with the issues raised by the premise. Is slavery, seen by the Luddites as a responsibility to take care of the reduced, right? Should society start experimenting with genetic manipulation again? What are the rights of Post-Reductionists? These were all issues that I was interested in, and which the book sadly neglected in favour of the angsty love of Elliot and Kai.

And Kai wasn't even that likable a character. While I had a strong respect for Elliot, who chose duty over her heart (I can relate to that), Kai just seemed petty for most of the book. To me, the flaws of Captain Wentworth (incidentally another name that Kai goes by) was magnified in Kai and his treatment of Elliot. He seemed to be completely incapable of understanding her situation despite growing up with her. In Persuasion, his anger was somewhat excusable because Anne did share some of the blame for breaking it off (she did let herself be persuaded not to marry him after all). But in the case of Elliot, she had no such choice. To leave her family would be to doom not only them, but all those under their care. Without her, her father would have mistreated the Reduced and Posts under their care and bankrupt the family.

While I think that the premise of this story makes it a very interesting re-telling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I feel that the book failed the grab the opportunity to explore the issues raised by the premise. It's a pity, because I did enjoy reading the book and I think that it could have been a really great book. I did notice this is the first in a series, and I think I might check out the second book, to see if any of the themes raised here are developed further.

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