3.5 It wouldn't be a lie to say that I wanted to read this because of the cover and its obvious Downton Abbey inspiration, but it also wouldn't be a l...more3.5 It wouldn't be a lie to say that I wanted to read this because of the cover and its obvious Downton Abbey inspiration, but it also wouldn't be a lie to say I probably would never have actively sought this out, because of those things, and because reasons. But when its pretty self showed up* in my mailbox before Christmas, luring me in the packets of Walkers shortbread and Twinings English Breakfast tea - well, frankly it was just too tempting a scene to pass up. So picture me, curled up on the couch, dunking my biscuits in a steaming cuppa, ready to sink into a (hopefully) nice little bit of turn of the century escapism. Maybe the tea and sugar (and butter. My god, the butter in those biscuits!) did their job and lulled me after a time, because after a jarring bit in the beginning when I felt sure this book and I were not going to get on, we somehow became reluctant friends. Confidants, even.
But lets get that first bit out of the way, shall we? It's the dreaded insta-love. And I meaninsta. Like, pretty sure it happened on about page 2, with two characters who'd never met, had no business being alone unchaperoned (at night. On a ship!), and both of whom acted out of character/station. It had me gasping behind my fan, I can tell you. With this, my guard was definitely up, and when you add in some of the anachronistic/unrealistic approach to the story, I was all prepared to heartily dislike this. BUT as much as I wanted to be bothered by this (and the complete lack offoundation in their sudden "relationship"), I eventually just gave in. I mean, the times, they were a-changin', and it is the lit equivalent of a soap opera, so whatever. I certainly would have preferred anticipation and build-up in the relationship - in a few relationships, actually, as they were all on the risque side; come to think of it, I would much have preferred this to be a sweeping saga that really wrenched every bit of drama out of the interactions... - but I had to face the facts that this was just never going to be that type of story, and I could dig my heels in or I could enjoy it. And when I came to (grudging) terms with that, I did thoroughly enjoy myself.
Yes, this was heavily inspired by Downton Abbey. Not just the time/setting, but even the plot points - kind of a "ripped from the headlines" approach in some ways, which is fine so long as you make it your own. And that was sort of the point of this book, after all, and the reason I wanted to read it, so I can't really hate... Like Downton, there are a lot of characters to keep track of. Actually, if I'm being honest, there were too many characters to keep track of, especially when they're not all that distinct. There were a few times I had to flip back and figure out who someone was, where they came in, and why they were significant. This is something dealt with much easier on screen, where people have distinct looks and there are all kinds of visual clues in how they dress/carry themselves to remind us where they fit into the story. Much harder on the page, when the story is flitting back and forth between plot-lines and the reader is left to keep track of who's who and how they know each other (compounded by the fact that just about everyone in the book is just now becoming acquainted with one another...). Because of that, I imagine this would be a frustrating book for some people. Eventually I got them all worked out, though, and even grew to sort of care about of few of them (surprise!). It's also very quick-moving, and some readers may feel rushed about. (I've already mentioned I would like a little more lingering... but at least the quick pace kept things lively.)
In the end, I have to say, I enjoyed it. It's anachronistic, but fun; not for diehard traditionalists, certainly - if you like your historical dramas to be sweeping and epic and (most of all) painstakingly researched and historically accurate, this is probably not the book for you. This isn't a book that will have you building ballrooms in your mind, or feeling as if it's so lovingly rendered that you practically lived it with the characters. No, this is not that. But for those looking for something fun to tide them over in between seasons of Downton, or for a nice bit of easy escapism, a good guilty pleasure read, it certainly ticks all the boxes. And though I don't know that the series will ever be one of my jumping-eager, gotta-have-it, breathlessly-awaiting-the-next series, I'm definitely curious to see what happens next at Somerton. I'll have a nice supply of tea and biscuits waiting...
And then: Alright, let's just get this out of the way: Seraphina is one of my favorite books I've read this year. Hands down, without a do...moreInitially:
And then: Alright, let's just get this out of the way: Seraphina is one of my favorite books I've read this year. Hands down, without a doubt, straight-up adored it. And I'd say it's my single most-pushed book this year; I've been pushing it on everyone. Obnoxiously. And I'm going to try to tell you why, and I'll do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you take nothing else from this review, understand that I want you to pick this up. Find out why HERE.(less)
I am bound to judge any story that uses Persuasion pretty harshly. I can't help myself; I'm a huge Persuasion fan, and there haven't been enough adapt...moreI am bound to judge any story that uses Persuasion pretty harshly. I can't help myself; I'm a huge Persuasion fan, and there haven't been enough adaptations of it to dull my senses to the inconsistencies yet. So it's a risk - as much as I look forward to stories that make use of it, there's a good chance that I just won't be able to let things go. I think I probably was harder on this that I would have been if it didn't use Persuasion and instead was just another dystopian YA. But it was inevitable that I would judge it harshly - though even then, I couldn't help but love it.
It was unputdownable. It had that indefinable something working for it, and the heart of it, the way it mirrored Persuasion but adapted to fit a wholly different environment, was really compelling to me. There were always parts of me saying, Anne wouldn't say what Elliot just said, Anne wouldn't do what Elliot just did - but then I'd catch myself thinking, but she would feel it... And that was why it worked. No, Elliot is not a carbon copy of Anne. She has Anne's basic traits (she's loyal, she's smart, reliable, and compassionate, and everyone pushes her around), but she is also a product of her environment, and the two work together to create a character that strongly resembles Anne (is very Anne-like), but is also her own creation. I really have to applaud Peterfreund for being able to balance the two so well. The story is at once a clear retelling of Persuasion, and its own very different story entirely. It's not just a regurgitation of Persuasion in an exciting dystopic setting. It's its own creation, and though there are these changes in the core of who the characters are, I think for the most part, they're suited to the story Peterfreund created. It feels more "inspired by" than a straight retelling. I think you can really tell how much Peterfreund likes Persuasion and Austen, and respects her source material, and that's part of what really makes it work as a whole.
That isn't to say there weren't things that bothered me, or that didn't work from a retelling standpoint. Because this is written for YA, the timing doesn't have the same impact. In Persuasion, Anne and Wentworth fall in love and are separated when Anne is 19, and then meet again nearly a decade later. Moving up the timetable to suit a YA audience means that Elliot and Kai are separated at 14 and come together again at 18, and I have never been enough of a romantic that I would consider separated 14 year olds to be tragic lovers, and a reunion at 18 to be a triumphant return... It lessens it somehow; lessens the tragedy and the sadness of pining and being alone for almost 10 years, takes away the pain of feeling like the character will always be alone, like she's lost her only chance... It makes it all a little lighter, which is sad because there's really nothing that Peterfreund could do differently and still have it suit the audience. The way, too, that they are separated - with Elliot first of all in mourning, and second, legitimately making the right decision for everyone around her - means that it becomes a lot harder to like Kai. I did like him, don't get me wrong, but I think that was maybe only because I knew who he was supposed to be, and how he was going to turn out. Otherwise, I think I would have found him really callous and almost cruel, both in the manner and timing of their separation, and in his treatment of Elliot on his return.
Other things that niggled at me: It feels like the beginning to a series. I don't think it will be, but that's just because I know it is a retelling. If I picked this up just as a sci-fi read, I'd be sure it was going to be a trilogy. There's so much that feels like it could still be explored, and for all of the doom and gloom of the situation, and Elliot's internal debates over what's right and what the future should hold, things are far too easily wrapped up once she's (re)secured Kai's affections; in fact, the entire book ends too abruptly for me, with it feeling like Elliot is being rash, and a number of characters being ushered quickly off the stage... Also, I didn't like the letters that begin and punctuate the book. I got used to them, and I like what Elliot did with them, and the knothole, etc., but the letters themselves felt forced on the story to me, and they didn't work as a way to draw me into the story.
See? See how nitpicky this all turned out, when I really do want to push this book into everyone's hands? Ugh, okay: Despite my obsessive attention to this as a Persuasion retelling, and my too-harsh judgement as a result (because I have to, I can't not, it's one of my all-time faves), Peterfreund crafted a really compelling story that: a) is one of the most unique Austen adaptations I've ever read. And I mean unique in a good way - P&P&Z was "unique" too, but my god, was it ever terrible. This is both unique and functioning as a story, compelling and interesting, very very different from other adaptations, but showcasing the same love of the original as the best adaptations do. b) works both as a retelling and as a complete original, which I don't know I have ever said - or even thought - about any other adaptation. It can be read by fans of YA, fans of Austen, and fans of both, and each group will get something different out of it while also enjoying it for what they came to it for, adaptation or YA sci-fi (And they won't feel like they're missing anything by not being familiar with Austen and/or YA). c) presents a really interesting, engaging world with characters and conflicts that intrigued me.
So yes, as much as I notice all these little things, and feel compelled to say "But wait - but what about - but then - " I really did thoroughly enjoy this and think Peterfreund did a fantastic job of making it work so very far out of the box. So get it. Read it. And enjoy it immensely with me even while we pick it apart...(less)