Do you have a favorite Jane Austen book? If you're reading this bloggy I'm more than a little positive you do. In fact, I'd wager a guess that many of you discerning readers place her timeless tale of Persuasion at the top of the pile. I do. More than a little bit. I remember cracking open its pages for the very first time after buying it at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England while on study abroad and just knowing that this was The Book for me. And it was. I've re-read it so many times but I still manage to cry (over Capt. Wentworth's letter of course) and to laugh and to smile and to sigh deeply at its end. So when I say that after hearing that a favorite author of mine was penning a retelling of said novel, I was a bit on tender-hooks. To discover that it was to be a post-apocalyptic retelling...well, say it isn't so Ms. Peterfreund.
As a Luddite, it has been ingrained in Elliot North since birth that her job is to watch over the laborers on her family's estate, the docile yet mentally 'incompetent' Reduced. Knowing full well she was the only North capable enough left to run the farm after the death of her sensible mother, Elliot nevertheless was ready to leave it all behind four years ago. Ready to leave with her best friend Kai, a Post-Reductionist (or a descendant of a Reduced who is normal) who was raised on the North estate. Yet responsible, practical Elliot changed her mind at the last moment as she forced herself to think of all those who depended on her for support and care, knowing her feckless father and prissy sister would never be able to keep things going on their own. A decision which left her heartbroken and alone, watching Kai leave for parts unknown with nary a word for over four years.
Imagine Elliot's surprise when Kai appears right in her backyard with a group progressive Post-Reductionists who want to rent her grandfather's boat building warehouse in order to build a new type of ship for exploration. No longer the childhood friend she remembers, Captain Malakai Wentforth (don't you love his new name?) is now cold and aloof and not at all pleased to be near Elliot. Which of course puts Elliot in a bit of a spot because how do you begin to tell your heart to stop loving someone just because they don't seem to want you anymore?
Diana Peterfreund you are a genius. Seriously. In a wash of classic retellings, you have managed to take my ALL TIME FAVORITE Jane Austen story, Persuasion, and remake it into a heart wrenching Sci-Fi adventure without the aid of a single vampire or zombie. Who does that?! In all seriousness though, I loved every stinkin' detail about this book. She reeled me in with those first few pages of letters between Elliot and Kai as children and then proceeded to sink her hooks into my heart as I watched Elliot try her best, fail and yet still managing to keep going -- even in the face of extreme suffering and betrayal. That is my kind of character, someone who I was rooting for and sympathizing with from the moment I saw that lovely cover.
Part of what makes For Darkness Shows the Stars such a special retelling is that I loved much how Ms. Peterfreund made this well-known story into her own. Yes, there are similarities between the two (enormously large ones in places) but readers can easily fall into the story and enjoy it solely on the basis of character conflict and story-building alone without having to have read Persuasion. My sole issue with this book is the ages of Elliot and Kai, who are eighteen at their reunion. I liked the characters being a bit past their prime in the original -- it added to the sense of life passing Ann Elliott by, but the age different does work here, if not as effectively.
I love reading authors' acknowledgments sections -- due to all the hidden gems contained therein -- and Ms. Peterfreund's proved exceptionally satisfying as she included Ms. Austen in her thanks saying: "Thank you for giving me the bones of this story, and forgive me the changes I've made to its DNA." Honestly, I can't think of a better way to describe this story. And really, I don't think she would have minded one bit.
Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Book Harbinger review
Good Books & Good Wine review
The Readventurer review
book source: my local library