It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.
Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.
But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.
I was intrigued by the premise of For Darkness Shows the Stars since I first heard about it. After all, what is there not love about a dystopian/science fiction retelling of my favorite Jane Austen book, Persuasion? Thankfully, my excitement was realized when reading this book with its creative setting, wonderful heroine, and lovely reunited romance. I will also say that readers do not need to have prior knowledge of Persuasion in order to enjoy this book though it provides a great introduction to the themes that Peterfreund focuses on.
The worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of the book. The characters are living in a dystopian world where a genetic experiment has resulted in the creation of the Reduced, humans with limited cognitive skills and physical limitations. The world has been taken over by a group of conservative noble families known as the Luddites who avoid most technology and new trends in an effort to retain their comfortable positions. Years after the creation of the Reduced, there is now a growing population of Post-Reductionists (Posts) who are born from Reduced parents, but show none of the limitations. Unfortunately, Posts are given the same social status as their Reduced family members which is equal to slavery.
The more specific setting of For Darkness Shows the Stars is a Luddite estate on an unidentified island where the North family and their servants reside. The Norths have a large community of Reduced and Post laborers that tend their house and farm in exchange for food and shelter. But, the estate is in trouble after the death of Lady North despite the efforts of the youngest daughter, Elliot.
Elliot North is a very admirable heroine who is the highlight of the book for me. She is a deep character that is flawed yet relatable. She is very easy to root for as she struggles to keep the farm afloat in difficult times. Four years earlier, Elliot gave up the only man she loved for her perceived duty to the laborers. Her father's uncaring and selfish disposition makes her efforts that much more difficult as she strives to keep the estate afloat. It is easy for readers to see Elliot's desperate need to break out of her shell and live her own life, but she is always thinking of others and hides this desire.
The male protagonist is Malakai Wentworth, known as a Kai, a former Post servant on the North Estate until his escape four years ago. He has returned as a member of a shipbuilding company (Cloud Fleet) and seems determined to show that he has gotten over Elliot and their forbidden romance. Kai was a difficult character to like at the beginning with his tendency to be cruel to Elliot and his former colleagues and his inability to deal well with his hurt feelings over the events prior to his escape. He also has a few dangerous secrets that threaten everything the Luddites believe in which I wish had been given more page time. But, like his Jane Austen counterpart, Kai grew on me and became a hero worthy of Elliot.
The Elliot/Kai romance is full of history and tension. Sparks are evident everytime they are around each other despite the years apart. Peterfreund provides readers with letters between the two that show the background of their relationship and what really happened four years ago. The letters were some of my favorite parts of the book and showed what a heartbreaking couple Elliot and Kai were at times.
There is a huge cast of secondary characters in For Darkness Shows the Stars from Elliot's family to the laborers to the Cloud Fleet. All of these are varied and three-dimensional without ever taking away from the Elliot/Kai storyline. They also provide great background and secondary plots to keep the action moving forward.
All in all, this was a great retelling of one of my favorite literary classics ever. The science fiction/dystopian twist is a fresh take on an old story and really kept my attention through the reading process. There are also alot of thought-provoking questions regarding science and its repercussions that kept me thinking days after completing the book. I should also mention that there is a fabulous free prequel, Among the Nameless Stars, available on Peterfreund's website that details Kai's adventures after escaping from the North estate.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
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