Katharine's Reviews > For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
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's review
Sep 28, 12

bookshelves: austen, ya, scifi, 2012
Read in September, 2012

In the past, I've used "this seems like fanfiction" in a derogative sense, to mean "it reads like amateur, unedited writing" and/or "it's a little too obsessive, wordy, and self-indulgent."

But when I say For Darkness Shows the Stars reads like fanfic, I mean it as the highest compliment. I mean it reads like the author knows Jane Austen backwards and forwards. I mean it's a take on Persuasion that's at once creative, totally unique, and loyal to the spirit of the original. I mean it's full of affectionate tributes to Austen without being slavish.

It never, never would have occurred to me to set Persuasion in a post-apocalyptic world on the brink of change. I'm beginning to think Diana Peterfreund has an imagination almost on the Jasper Fforde level, because it works. The fearful and tradition-bound society she descrbies, with a class hierarchy enforced by history, fearful of technology because it may bring further disaster - it's a better setting for an Austenish romance than any adaptation since "Clueless."

Elliot, Peterfreund's heroine, makes a great younger Anne, intensely loyal and determined with a majorly overdeveloped sense of responsibility - but perhaps a bit more torn about her place in the world than canon Anne, as she struggles between her upbringing and her inclinations to explore the rapidly changing world beyond her home. That confusion seems fitting, however, having shifted the character's ages younger for a YA audience.

Several other reviewers have noted that the younger age (which makes Elliot's past heartbreak happen at fourteen) feels a bit forced and doesn't quite fit into an adaptation of a novel often described as "autumnal." I agree, and I often wish the dividing line between YA and adult lit weren't quite so artificially sharp. I understand marketing strategies put this book in the popular "YA postapocalyptic fiction" niche, but it's unfortunate we have to pigeon-hole like that, because I think "Darkness" is much more complex than that label, and just as compelling to an adult reader if you ignore the rather stridently-emphasized age problem. It would perhaps have been better to leave Elliot's age vague... but whatever, I don't blame the author and I didn't have too much trouble suspending disbelief about this one detail.

In fact, I do have one major critique, but it's not the age problem. It's the fact as a bit of Luddite myself (and props to Peterfreund for the historical reference there), I found the ending a little too convenient. Within the world of the novel, the apocalyptic disaster in the backstory happened because of unrestrained genetic experimentation. In the present, the ruling Luddite class is bound by tradition and religion to abhor anything even close to scientific experimentation, in order to avoid a repetition of the disaster; but the rising Post class challenges this strictness of this viewpoint. Peterfreund thoughtfully raises a number of complex points about the dangers vs benefits of technology, and discusses them quite naturally within the context of the development of the novel, only to brush them aside with a glib happy-ever-after that seems to imply all genetic enhancements = yay, good times. Given her own science background, I'm sure Peterfreund knows exactly how closely her described risky alterations mirror things that are actually happening in real life, and that really cause major damage. When she describes genetically altered plants that contain pesticides, she knows that actually happens, right? And it isn't a good thing, unless you're Monsanto? I understand this is a novel, not a political treatise (and how I'd hate it if it was) but such realistically thought-provoking issues deserve a more nuanced ending.

I also wish Peterfreund hadn't tied the Luddite objections to religion. It's all-too believable that religion would be used to enforce compliance to the rules, in such a society, but it sets up a religion-vs-science opposition that's kind of cliched and paints religion as the unintelligent, cowardly choice. Sigh. Given that Peterfreund has depicted religion in very interesting and thoughtful ways in some of her other books, I'm not sure she intended this, but the implication is there.

Anyway, other than that somewhat esoteric objection, I loved it. I would actually give it four-and-a-half stars. The prose was lovely and descriptive, plotting tight, characterization excellent.
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