Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Title: For Darkness Shows the Stars

Author: Diana Peterfreund

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Over the past few years, more than a few novels have taken inspiration from Jane Austen's work. There have been various modern and futuristic re-tellings of Pride and Prejudice so I was more than a little curious to read the dystopian story inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, a novel which I have come to love just as much, if not more, than Pride and Prejudice itself. However, to my greatest surprise and immense disappointment, the fact that For Darkness Shows the Stars is inspired by Persuasion, and takes much of its plot-line from it, was one of its greatest downfalls as a novel. 

The premises of For Darkness Shows the Stars is fascinating and I was hooked by this intriguing dystopian setting from the moment I began reading. Elliot North lives in a futuristic world where a genetic mutation from generations past has failed, leaving much of the population Reduced. These Reduced individuals lack the intelligence that normal people, or the Luddites, possess and as such, have been used as slaves on farms and plantations. During the time of the genetic manifestation, all those who opposed this change went into hiding in caverns and emerged, now more sophisticated than their fellow brethren for not having succumbed to the power that this genetic change was meant to bring about. However, what these Luddites did not anticipate was the fact that the offspring of the Reduced, known as the Posts, would be normal individuals like them.

Needless to say, this interesting set-up and situation gives rise to a great many possible scenarios and potential for this novel to be astounding. I applaud Diana Peterfreund for her imagination and her skill in world-building as she cleverly uncovered the hidden secrets behind this dystopian realm and developed Elliot’s character through her perception of the world she lived in. Furthermore, I appreciated the complex relationships between Elliot and her family and friends and I came to admire Peterfreund’s slow growth of these many friendships. However, For Darkness Shows the Stars focuses primarily on the romance between Elliot North, a Luddite, and Kai, her best friend, former slave, and a Post. In fact, despite the fact that one of the main characters is himself a descendant from a long line of laborers, this issue is never brought forth and discussed as it should be.

One of the many aspects in this novel that happened to grate on me was the fact that the slavery in this story was completely glossed over. Elliot claims that none of the brutality, harsh punishments, and danger that the Reduced and the Posts faced as slaves ever happened on her plantation, and as such, this issue was discarded and never brought up again. Although Elliot does her best to protect the slaves on her plantation and does her best to make amends to their lives, she still does nothing to release them from their bonds to her as an owner. As an American who has had the history of slavery and the Civil War pounded into her head year after year, I can say that even if torture was not occurring at Elliot’s plantation, injustice certainly was. I kept expecting Elliot, who herself has fallen in love with a Post, to do something by the end of the novel to aid these slaves and end the reign of slavery on her fields by giving them wages, but I was disappointed by the lack of action on this front. Slavery has been studied time and time again merely because of its utter significance and the fact that this topic was never given the amount of depth or consideration that it deserved to get in this novel bothered me.

Another one of the biggest faults I found with this novel was the fact that it was based upon Austen’s Persuasion. I could not help but compare For Darkness Shows the Stars to one of my favorite Jane Austen classics, and as such, this novel failed to even live up to the perfection of that love story. Austen’s Persuasion follows the story of sweet, kind, and gentle Ann Elliot, a girl who is wrought by guilt at having declined a marriage proposal from the man she loves. When Ann meets Captain Wentworth years later, it is, needless to say, one of the most awkward and embarrassing situations to have ever been touched upon in literature. Yet, Ann manages to deal with this situation with poise, despite falling apart on the inside. Throughout the novel we are constantly kept on the edge of our seats in suspense of whether or not Wentworth has truly moved on or whether he still loves Ann. This ultimate revelation is finally conveyed to the reader in the form of one of the most romantic and beautifully written love letters of all time.

However, For Darkness Shows the Stars tells the story of Elliot North who is forced to decline her lover’s offer to run away. At the time when Kai makes his proposition, Elliot’s mother has just passed away and she simply cannot leave her estate or her plantation. Furthermore, when Kai and Elliot meet four years later, he does not hesitate to make his anger towards Elliot known, casting her more in the role of the victim opposed to the guilty perpetrator. In addition, Kai’s true feelings are revealed to the reader long before his letter is read by Elliot, making it seem rather useless and lose the charm, beauty, and romantic quality that it held in Persuasion.

I would, by no means, discourage other readers from reading this novel, but I would not whole-heartedly recommend it either. I admire Diana Peterfreund for thinking up such a unique setting and I applaud her world-building efforts in the first half of this novel, but that is unfortunately where my praise of this story ends. Although I must admit that I enjoyed reading For Darkness Shows the Stars, I found this futuristic re-telling of one of my favorite Austen novels to be a disappointment. I definitely think I would have enjoyed this story more if it had not stuck so closely to the classic it was mirrored off of and if Peterfreund had managed to take her own unique spin on this famous tale. Although she did manage to add her own unique aspects to it in the form of the futuristic world she had created, the ultimate love story perfectly followed that of Jane Austen. Furthermore, I found that the ending was a little too rushed with all the loose threads wrapping themselves up too nicely in preparation for the end of the novel. Just as movies fail to live up to the books they are based off of, this novel failed to live up to the classic it was inspired by. Ultimately, it seems, nothing can possibly beat the original.

A Quick Note on the Cover: I am quickly coming to realize that false marketing is becoming a way of life in the publishing industry. Elliot North is described in the novel as having brown skin and black hair, yet, she clearly has pale white skin and brown hair on the cover! In an industry where covers are constantly being replaced by newer, shinier, prettier ones, I certainly hope that this cover, despite its beauty, also gets replaced - it simply has to go. 

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