By Diana Peterfreund
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
To Sum It Up: Elliot and Kai were born on the same day, but in vastly different spheres. Elliot is a Luddite, part of the wealthy landowning class that shunned technology and avoided the disastrous consequences of the Reduction, a catastrophic event that resulted from genetic over-experimentation. Kai is a Post, a laborer on Elliot’s family’s estate and seen as nothing more by the Luddites—except for Elliot. Over the years, Elliot and Kai’s friendship grows into something more, but when the two are older and Kai wants Elliot to leave the North estate with him, she chooses her responsibilities to the estate and its workers. A heartbroken Elliot never expects to see Kai again, so his reappearance a few years later, now as Captain Malakai Wentforth, stuns her. Not only does Kai still harbor all of his anger at her, but there’s something fundamentally different about him that makes him practically a stranger to Elliot.
Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars is a sci-fi-ish retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which happens to be my favorite book EVER. I’m not usually drawn to alternate takes on Austen novels out of wariness that they just won’t measure up to the originals. The novelty of a YA story based on Persuasion, however, proved too difficult to resist, and my curiosity won out.
Even if Persuasion wasn’t so beloved to me, I think I’d still have the same issues with For Darkness Shows the Stars. While it’s evident that Jane Austen’s novel is held in high regard and her original work is rather successfully transplanted to a new setting, I just didn’t care for the new setting. The world gives the impression of being futuristic, yet some of the clothing descriptions hint at the past. I definitely needed more details about the history within this story. The explanation of the Reduction, the apocalyptic event that resulted in the Reduced, individuals with limited intelligence who’ve essentially become slave labor for the landowning Luddites, came in dragged out dribs and drabs. I still don’t feel that all of the blanks were filled in, and my struggle to totally understand how this world came to be put a big damper on my reading experience.
Science vs. religion factors heavily in this book. The Luddites believe that the Reduction was God’s punishment for science proponents pushing genetic experimentation too far. Because they rejected technology, the Luddites were spared. Although this is an interesting and thought-provoking debate, it’s not one that I’m personally passionate about or find page-turning to read about, and so there were stretches of the book that moved very slowly for me.
The main character, Elliot North, has a lot of internal monologues and the subjects became repetitive after a while. Elliot loves Kai, but he no longer loves her. Someone is going to find out about the genetically modified wheat that Elliot has created, which goes against the Luddite protocols meant to keep another Reduction from occurring. Elliot needs to protect the North estate’s workers, both the Reduced and the Posts (children of the Reduced born with normal reasoning abilities but still given the same social status as the Reduced). Elliot’s troubles are made very clear early on and don’t require all of the rehashing they receive throughout the book.
Unfortunately, the romance in For Darkness Shows the Stars did not work for me, either. Kai can’t forgive Elliot for choosing what she felt were her duties to the North estate over running away with him. I’ll give Kai some leeway for his broken heart, but I also feel that he often makes it his business to be cruel to Elliot. It got to the point where I just didn’t understand why she would want this guy back anyway. On top of that, I never sensed the chemistry between these two. They’re supposed to have been in love with each other for forever, and their letters to each other over the years are weaved throughout the novel (but not in chronological order). Even with this correspondence, I felt meh about Elliot and Kai as a couple.
What kept me invested in this book was finding nods to Persuasion, and I do think that For Darkness Shows the Stars does a solid job of telling its own story while still broadly following the main plot of the material on which it’s based. I just wish that the story and the characters here had been as compelling as their Austen counterparts and that the world-building had gone into greater detail.
All in All: I’d really, really hoped that this book would click with me, but sadly, it didn’t. I had too many unanswered questions about the world, and the love story, which I’d been looking to be swept away by, fell flat.