Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

I have had For Darkness Shows the Stars sitting on my shelf since summer, because as soon as I hear the magic words “sci-fi Jane Austen retelling,” I am SOLD. (Not that I hear those words often, which is sad). But life and procrastination and over-commitment being what they are, I didn’t actually read it until over Thanksgiving. All the while being berated by friends who had red it and liked to yell at me, “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” And it was getting ridiculous, so I read it.

The Plot (from Goodreads)

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.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

My Thoughts

You know what Jane Austen does really, really well? Break my heart. She has this knack for making her characters suffer and suffer and suffer — all internally, where no one else can notice — and then, when you are pretty much ready to throw the book, she turns things around. In a way that is beautiful and immensely pleasing and redeems all the prior suffering.

This is what Diana Peterfreund does extremely well in For Darkness Shows the Stars. The childhood letters between Elliot and Kai, spanning all the years of their friendship, are an excellent illustration of what sort of relationship they had, and why Elliot is so heartbroken when he comes back cold and distant. I loved the character development, and Elliot’s struggle between loyalty to her family, her people, Kai, and the people under her care. All of the many ways she is pulled make sense, and there’s no obvious answer to what she should do. And of course, there’s the Austen-esque dilemmas of characters who are constantly trying to do what they think is best for another person, and of propriety and decorum keeping people from speaking their minds. Even though For Darkness Shows the Stars takes place in the future instead of Victorian times, the way the world is constructed makes the Austenian society work.

I also liked the premise of the world, and the back story of what happened with the Luddites and the Reduction. It was fascinating, and I actually wish the details had been more fully explored. All we ever got was a broad overview of what happened, and while it didn’t leave me with any confusion, I still had questions.

The only thing I had a problem with — which unfortunately kind of tainted my overall feelings of the book — is that Kai does something that Elliot has a huge ethical problem with. It’s a major conflict in the book, and there are extremely legitimate reasons why she SHOULD have a problem with what he did. And yet, by the end of the book, it’s like she’s decided this major thing — the thing that kept them apart four years ago, the thing that’s kept her from being able to trust him when he comes back — that thing suddenly is a non-issue. And it really shouldn’t be. I wish it had been addressed. Even a look into Elliot’s head at WHY this thing no longer mattered to her would have been helpful. As it was, I felt like a huge part of her character and the plot was left kind of unresolved, and that bothered me.

Did I still love the slow, torturous romance between Elliot and Kai? Absolutely. Did I cry reading Kai’s final letter? Buckets. The emotions were handled masterfully in this book, and again, the characters are wonderful. It’s just that pesky logic thing that kept me from absolutely LOVING this book. As it stands, I really, really enjoyed it.

Content guide: Contains mentions of physical and sexual abuse