Sunday, January 19, 2014

REVIEW: "Across a Star-Swept Sea" by Diana Peterfreund

Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #2)
Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
For Ages 13+ (violence, language)
Young Adult -- Science Fiction/Dystopian
Balzer & Bray -- October 2013
Hardcover, 464 pages
Purchased from Amazon

Retelling, Unique Setting, Kick-Ass Heroine

Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

"If the Wild Poppy dared return to Galatea, Citizen Cutler was ready."

After finishing Across a Star-Swept Sea, I think the first words out of my mouth were "Wow."  That is such a small word for the feelings that I got while reading this book.  So, please, bear with me as I try to express how fantastic I thought this story was in as coherent a way as possible.

This book is a wonderful retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy with a science fiction/dystopian setting.  The Earth has changed dramatically by the time this story begins.  Years of genetic experiments resulted in a heartbreaking brain disorder known as the Reduction which affected the mental capacity and maturity of the victims.  This later caused wars to break out throughout the planet which destroyed almost all the civilizations.  Two island societies emerged from the chaos (Galatea and Albion) and Reduction was eventually cured.  But, things get complicated when the aristocracy of Galatea is overthrown and their enemies have access to drugs that seem to replicate that long-forgotten disease.  The savior of these people is the mysterious Wild Poppy.

The heroine of this book is Lady Persis Blake, an Albion aristocrat who uses her carefully constructed reputation for obsessing over fashion and parties to hide the fact that she is the Wild Poppy.  Along with her friends, she uses a variety of disguises in order to sneak into Galatea, find prisoners, and sneak them across the sea into Albion.  I absolutely loved Persis!  She is one of the most admirable young adult heroines I've read in a long time.  She is intelligent, resourceful, and sensitive to the plights of others.  I liked the fact that she was not perfect in her philosophies regarding the aristocracy, but was willing to admit when she was wrong.  I also thought it was interesting, and spot-on, for Peterfreund to cast a teenaged girl as the Wild Poppy because that is a type of person who is often overlooked which is the entire point of the original story.

Persis's mission is altered when she meets Galatean Justen Helo, grandson of the woman who invented the Reduction cure.  While Persis was pretty much the center of the story, I thought Justen was another great character who more than stood his own against her.  He is considered a hero by his country (aristocrat and revolutionaries alike) for his family ties, but his political stances are not black and white.  Justen is a brilliant scientist who is uncomfortable with the way that the revolution has evolved and travels to Albion to figure out a way to stop it.  Like Persis, there is much more to Justen than what is first shown to readers and it was fascinating to watch his secrets be revealed and his actions be explained.

Persis and Justen's relationship (like in The Scarlet Pimpernel) starts off as a ruse.  They are asked to act out a very public romance in order to keep Justen's true purpose hidden from Galatea and to distract the rest of the Albion people.  Because both are skilled manipulators (especially Persis), this love story is very believable to others.  I loved the banter between Justen and Persis especially when they try to figure out the other's secrets.  Their evolution from unwilling partners to friends to something more was slow-burning, but never boring to me.  Nothing feels rushed or out of place in the development of this relationship.

Because of the nature of the story, Peterfreund provided readers with a large, colorful cast of characters to interact with Persis and Justen.  I can't describe all of them in order to avoid spoilers, but my particular favorites were Justen's sister, Remy, and Persis's best friend, Isla.  Everyone in the book had a purpose in the overall plot whether they were an enemy, a friend, or an innocent bystander which always signals a great story for me.

This book is considered a companion novel to For Darkness Shows the Stars.  Both take place in the dystopian setting where the world was changed by the Reduction.  FDStS takes place in a part of the planet where the Reduction still exists and civilization has become very reminiscent of Regency-era England.  This works well since Peterfreund did a retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion in that setting.  While I did read (and adored!) the first book, I definitely don't think it needs to be read to enjoy this one.  Some of the characters from FDStS do pop up in Across a Star-Swept Sea, but Peterfreund does a great job of explaining who they are without requiring previous knowledge.

In conclusion, I just fell in love with Peterfreund's universe and her skill at retelling classics.  She keeps the important information, but shows off her creativity especially with the character of Persis and the world of New Pacifica.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves a creative, well-developed story even if you aren't a big fan of science fiction.


Blush -- Kisses with no/minor touching.

No one is innocent in the tide of history. Everyone has kings and slaves in his past. Everyone has saints and sinners. We are not to blame for the actions of our ancestors. We can only try to be the best we can, no matter what our heritage, to strive for a better future for all.

0.5. Among the Nameless Stars
1. For Darkness Shows the Stars
1.5. The First Star to Fall
2. Across a Star-Swept Sea

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