September 27, 2012

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Published: 2012, Balzer + Bray
Genre: Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Retelling
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Jane Austen's Persuasion, since it is a retelling

Envy hurt exponentially more than heartbreak because your soul was torn in two, half soaring with happiness for another person, half mired in a well of self-pity and pain.

My main interest in reading Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars was definitely the fact that it is a retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. It's not a secret to anyone who knows me that I love all things Jane Austen, and after doing a Persuasion read along this summer I just felt compelled to read this genre-defying science fiction/dystopian/post-apocalyptic version. Reading it with Persuasion so fresh in my mind proved to be a little detrimental, however I did find myself enjoying all the new aspects that Peterfreund brought into this retelling.

In this futuristic society, people are divided into three groups. There are the Reduced, the offspring of those who took genetic engineering too far and played the role of God. The Reduced look human, but are unable to mentally advance beyond the age of an early child. There are the Luddites, the offspring of the people who refused to partake in the genetic experimentation in the past and thus did not have their lineages suffer. The Luddites fully believe that the Reduced are God's punishment for those ancestors and their experiments, so the Luddites feel a sense of entitlement for their superior positions. The Luddites also believe that it is their responsibility to take care of the Reduced. And a third class has emerged between the two: the Post-Reductionists. For a while the Reduced only gave birth to more Reduced, but recently a trend has emerged where the Reduced are sometimes giving birth to children whose mental facilities are no different from the Luddites. While the Post-Reductionists prefer to call themselves so, the Luddites see this terminology as a threat to their society and the semblance of stability.

Elliot North has experienced this fractured society firsthand growing up on her family's Luddite estate. Although the Luddites fear progress and anything that has the potential to negatively impact the society that they have created, Elliot does not necessarily buy into that mentality. As the one who actually runs the estate, if not the nominal lord, her concerns are for the continued success and well-being of the North estate and all of its people. Again and again her Luddite philosophies clash with her knowledge of her changing world as she becomes best friends with Kai, a Post-Reductionist worker, befriends many other Post-Reductionists, gets to better understand the culture of her home, and even genetically enhances a wheat crop herself all for the greater good of the people of the North estate. Her own confused thoughts on a gradually Post-Reductionist society are brought to the forefront when her grandfather's shipyard is rented to a group of free Post-Reductionist explorers, one of whom is her ex-best-friend Kai.

It is difficult for me to collect my thoughts on For Darkness Shows the Stars as an independent work since I did commence my reading with the understanding that this is a retelling. There were many ways in which I felt that the adherence to Persuasion's storyline is a bit of a detriment in For Darkness Shows the Stars. Persuasion is a story about the power of persuasion, and about how easily people can ignore their own predilections if another can give a good argument. As its core, For Darkness Shows the Stars has a fundamentally different aim.  Persuasion shows how Anne Elliot's decision to not marry Captain Wentforth has profoundly affected her life, but her life alone is the only one that really suffers. That is not really true in For Darkness Shows the Stars, where Elliot North's conflicting thoughts on Kai's views of changing society and the place of progress and Post-Reductionists has consequences that affect tons of people; this is no isolated love story, but rather a critique of a society's fear of progress. Although Jane Austen's story does bring up questions about the changing society and how governmental organizations like the navy were helping society as the aristocracy began to flounder, these messages are not nearly as explicit as Peterfreund's are.

Elliot North is a likable protagonist, and I found myself emphasizing with her struggle between saving her estate and the importance of her Luddite ancestry. She's resourceful and determined and not quite the pushover I'd expected since she is based on Anne Elliot. I'm not saying that I dislike Anne Elliot by any means, but Elliot North and her struggles are much easier for me to relate to. The fact that her decision to remain behind instead of going to a Post-Reductionist enclave with Kai had less to do with a sense of uncertainty versus her knowledge that the estate needed her also helped.

Since Persuasion is literally all about mourning lost love and questioning past decisions, there's no way I could read something like For Darkness Shows the Stars and not examine how this theme was touched upon here. First the good of Elliot and Kai's relationship: I felt like I really got a good understanding of their relationship. Through past letters periodically spread throughout the novel, I was privy to the development of their friendship as the two learned about each other, their different places in society, and began to question why things were the way they were. Although the letters were not my favorite way for all of this backstory to be conveyed, I still loved the solid foundations that Peterfreund establishes for their relationship.

Now the bad: I just couldn't buy into this idea that Elliot and Kai were separated at fourteen and yet considered each other to be the loves of their lives and spent four years pining for one another. While I just mentioned that I think the establishment of their relationship is well done, I speak only of the establishment of a solid friendship. I could buy them mourning each other's friendship over the years. One of the most powerful aspects of Persuasion is that eight years of youth and marriageability pass Anne by as she literally cannot stop regretting her choice to stay behind as Wentworth went on to prove his worth. I never really got a sense that Elliot was mourning the fact that she stayed at her estate, especially since it was so clear how necessary her presence was there. And there's no way that I'd be convinced that Elliot would not be able to move on and find a new love, given time. In Persuasion Anne is literally stagnant, continually regretting her decision to stay behind and let Wentworth go, but there's not this same sense of regret for Elliot North. Despite those issues, I still enjoyed the relationship that continues to develop between Elliot and Wentworth once they are reunited. I am a sucker for those romances where the characters struggle with seemingly irreconcilable differences, only to begin to develop a mutual understanding and respect much later. I did feel, however, that the romance itself is secondary to the bigger themes of the story.

As a book in its own right, I really enjoyed For Darkness Shows the Stars. I really enjoyed the morality questions it offers and some of the answers that it proposes. It is a book that does not shy away from the difficult questions. Can progress ever be justified, or is the inexorable pull towards progress really just another way to repeat past mistakes? Are human lives all equal, or do the mistakes of our ancestors continue to condemn us? I did feel, however, that this would have been better off not as a Persuasion retelling. The focus is on morality and humanity after all, not a lost love. I am sure that those who aren't as critical of retellings and their use of the original source material, or those who haven't actually read Persuasion, will not find nearly that many issues.
author image


Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. Haha, I actually haven't read this one yet because i was so certain that reading it so soon after Persuasion would prove detrimental for me. I think the theme changes speak volumes for this, and that would maybe bother me more than major plot changes. I'm not sure how I'll feel when I read it--but I can see Persuasion for teens not really working as it is (like you said) a story about the regrets these characters have beyond youth when they're older and wiser.

    1. Yes, unfortunately I didn't consider that. I just thought it would be interesting to read it so soon after Persuasion for comparison's sake. It is hard because I did enjoy the story - just not as a Persuasion retelling, which is what the author intended. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts when you get around to reading it!


Thank you for taking the time to comment! I strive to make my blog the very best it can possibly be and I appreciate each and every comment on here.