Kristin's Reviews > For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
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I had low expectations for this book when I picked it up, and For Darkness Shows the Stars did not disappoint them. Yes, you read that right. This book wasn't terrible, but it was unnecessary, filled with holes and riddled with loose ends that were never effectively tied up. Reading this story was a bit like eating cotton candy - it went down easily but was as substantive as air. Based on the Jane Austen classic Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars unsuccessfully tried to merge that story about regret and class strife with a dystopia. I shouldn't have picked up this book. After Divergent by Veronica Roth I told myself I wouldn't be reading any more dystopias until I was convinced something worthwhile from that genre had come my way. But, I love Jane Austen. Her work is timeless and brilliant. The fact that this story was based on one of her lesser known (and more serious) works, piqued my interest even though I didn't see any reason to reboot the story as a dystopia.

Before I go on, let's recap a little. Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a waning aristocratic family who was persuaded not to marry a rising naval office because he lacked money and position. A number of years later, when Anne is 27 and now regrets this decision, the naval officer Frederick Wentworth has returned with money and position. Austen tell this story with keen observation and her usual sense of irony. There is little to melodrama, and what melodrama is utilized in her stories is often used for ironic purposes.

For Darkness Shows the Stars rehashes much of the main plot points of Persuasion to pointless effective. You get the same story you got in Persuasion, but with more YA melodrama and angst. Kai and Elliot stand in for Wentworth and Anne, and while compelling enough, I didn't see any reason to retell Austen's story, which was more complex, more believable and less overwrought. By age 14 they have determined they are irrevocably in love, and when they meet again a scant four years later at age 18, they are so filled with pain, resentment and regret that you would think they were in their 30s.

The dystopia in this story is the worst part of this book. Diana Peterfreund envisions a world in which some members of the population were "reduced" due to a genetic experiment gone wrong. After too much modulation, people basically broke and became disabled in some way, though it's not clear to what extent. Those who opposed the modification, the Luddites, have taken on the responsibility of caring for these reduced people. This care has manifested itself as the Luddites treating the Reduced as serfs. In this world, the Luddites have outlawed all technology, and I mean all. No computers, no phones, no cars, nothing. And, religion is used to justify the oppression of the Reduced. Before I go on, can I just take a moment to ask why so many dystopias are devoid of basic human technology? To what end is this justified? Ok, back to the matter at hand. Luddite Elliot became friends with some of the Post-Reductionists - people born from the Reduced who managed to recover their faculties and thrived. Elliot and post-Reductionist Kai act out the basic elements of Persuasion, and the author then proceeds to waste pages touching on but not really developing this future world. I had a lot of questions, namely about the technology, how this Reduction thing all went down and how some people outgrew it but not others. Additionally, I kept picturing this universe, set in the future, as if it were in Austen's time. I wasn't sure how to proceed with the setting at all.

As far as Elliot and Kai, they acted way too mature for their ages. Certainly Elliot took on a lot of responsibility managing her family's foundering estate after her mother died, but I seriously kept thinking she was like 30 years old. While some characters had quite a few shades of grey, others were so typically evil or saintly it was tiring after a while to deal with them.

All of this aside, though, I did get through this book easily and quickly. I like Persuasion, and putting it in this form didn't kill the story for me. Peterfreund's writing was serviceable despite the holes. I guess it's just that in this case there was no reason to retread Persuasion's story. It was fine the way it was. And, while this story was probably aimed at upper-level high school girls, it felt more like it belonged in a 7th-grade library. I guess that's fine. 7th-graders will probably like this book, but I'd tell high schoolers just to skip this book and read Persuasion.
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