Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Rating: Heart-wrenching, heart-soaring, intensely romantic, so beautiful, oh God the pain, holy crap this world building, what even are sentences.
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.
I need to take a moment to calm myself. Simply put, I loved this. This is the kind of book that drowns you in feels. Right now I'm kind of a bit like:
BUT IN THE BEST WAY. Because the true strength of For Darkness Shows the Stars, beside the tremendous world building and the gorgeous themes of progress and the fear it inspires, is Elliot's perfectly nuanced and detailed emotional journey. I felt every moment of her pain. I wanted to reach through the page and hug her and tell her you is kind, you is smart, you is important, because she's amazing, and she suffers so. And I loved it. I cared so much about Elliot, because she cares so much.
Full disclosure: I'm a Jane Austen nut. As in, I just counted, and I own over twenty copies of her books even though she only wrote six full length novels, plus a Jane Austen cookbook, three biographies, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens knew, a Lizzy Bennet action figure, and a purse with Jane's face on it. Needless to say, I've read Persuasion many a time, and basically have it memorized. I'm not sure how much this influenced my adoration for this book or my understanding of the plot, but I'm sure it did. Obviously I recommend reading Persuasion, because it's awesome. I can only write a review from the point of view of someone who has the original story deeply internalized, even though FDStS is such a quality novel I'm certain it can stand on its own. It's not necessary to have read Persuasion to read FDStS.
Also, I would just like to say, I realized halfway through that this book is set in NEW ZEALAND, though it's never explicitly stated, and it was a massive light bulb moment that I think is worth knowing beforehand. So there you go.
Anyway, here's the deal. Centuries ago, scientists decided to play God and do experiments on themselves, making themselves superior creatures by cheating death, illness, and human frailty with something called the ERV vaccine. The aptly named Luddites are all:
and want no part of these shenanigans. So they don't take the vaccine, which turns out to be a good move, since all this war and apocalyptic-ness transpires because of it. The Luddites seek refuge in the caves, and when they come out, the world is completely devastated, and the children of the enhanced have become Reduced-- lesser versions of humans, nearly incapable of speech, and far less intelligent. The Luddites think God has punished the scientists and their ilk for striving to outdo Him. So they rebuild their cut off, technology-free world into a feudal society where all progressive thinking is banned.
Our story starts generations later. These two battling concepts of moving forward and holding back are perfectly embodied in cautious Luddite Elliot and bold Children of the Reduced Kai. The complex world building unfolded slowly, and in the beginning I was frustrated, because I didn't know what was going on, but once I found out, I was glad for the pace. It led me to understand it better. Reading this book made me feel like I've been living in Elliot's unjust society myself.
|Oh Wentworth. Don't be like that.|
Strong, loyal Elliot is the only reason her family's farm hasn't completely disintegrated. All the Posts and Reduced on her estate adore her and see her as their friend. Except for Kai. He's a Post. He's descended from the Reduced, and should therefore be almost mute and mentally impaired, yet he and many others are completely normal. And they all strive for more. They all look to the stars and the future. Which the Luddite lords do NOT like. He and Elliot were besties growing up, and eventually fell in love, and Kai was all, "Run away with me! We'll see the world! Invent things!" and Elliot was all... "I cannot." Because of her duties, because she's a Luddite, because SUFFERING SUFFERING SUFFERING.
And when these two come together... Oh sweet lord. There is such Unresolved Sexual Tension. Kai is grand, important, and clearly furious at Elliot's betrayal. Elliot has missed him like crazy and her heart is one big open wound. They just keep hurting each other, even though they're both trying to do the right things, even though they both think they're right. And I just wanted to cry and smush their faces together and go "PLEASE JUST LOVE EACH OTHER! PLEASE!" But there are romantical misunderstandings galore. And the rest of the narrative does not disappoint. There's mean nasty Baron North, Elliot's utterly heinous father, lovely complex side characters, and pain. Lots and lots of pain.
I knew the general structure of the narrative because of how well I know Persuasion. But I did not know exactly how everything would transpire, or how brilliantly Peterfreund would portray this crazy world where it's illegal to change things for the better. Where it's verboten to change, period, despite the fact that the world always does. And Elliot is an incredible heroine. She's so strong and intelligent it just boggles my mind. She deserves everything. And KAI. I loved him. Despite the fact that he's cold and horribly cruel to Elliot, you know it's just because he's all hurt. He appears on the outside like this:
|You have broken my heart I will destroy you how dare you arrrrrgh|
But really he wants to be like this:
We get to know how much they mean to each other through the letters they exchanged in childhood. And their slow, beautiful journey back to each other is just magnificent. I teared up. I clutched my heart. I had to stop reading to do a little dance around my apartment because of the feels.
Obviously I recommend this book. This is a true, deep romance between two minds, not two bodies. I'm totally bereft that this isn't a series, not because the book feels unfinished, but only because I want more of this world. Elliot and Kai's story is both perfect and perfectly contained. This is the kind of book where you sigh upon finishing and just sort of stare dreamily into space because you're so happy and contented and clutch the book to your chest because it will live there forever.