Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
Release date: October 15th, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Series: #2 in the For Darkness Shows the Stars series (companion)
Rating: A romantic, fun, original sci-fi twist on a classic that I loved right up until the very end. BOOK, WHY YOU NO HAVE SEQUEL??
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.
In this thrilling adventure inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, Diana Peterfreund creates an exquisitely rendered world where nothing is as it seems and two teens with very different pasts fight for a future only they dare to imagine.
My review of For Darkness Shows the Stars
Technically, this book can be read without reading FDStS first, as it's a companion, not a strict sequel, but I wouldn't recommend it. You won't understand the cameos and a lot of other stuff. However, this review is spoiler-free for Book One.
The cover: EYEGASM.
The story: Overall, I enjoyed this book more than For Darkness Shows the Stars. FDStS was a slow-paced, emotional retelling of a slow-paced, emotional Jane Austen novel: Persuasion, which happens to be one of my favorites evere. Across a Star-Swept Sea is a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I have not yet read, but which I understand to be a bit more adventurous and swashbuckling. And because of this, we have a more adventurous and swashbuckling plot which turns out to be a whole lot of fun. It also features at least five of my favorite tropes ever, the first of which is: genderswapping!
By day, Lady Persis Blake is an air-headed socialite more concerned with hairstyles and parties than with anything of substance. But that's all just a brilliant cover, because by night, Persis is the infamous spy the Wild Poppy, breaking Reduced and imprisoned nobles from the island nation across the channel out of jail. See, Galatea has undergone a (French) Revolution, ousting the Queen and all the nobles out of power, and now they are smack-dab in the middle of a Reign of Terror. Instead of guillotining people left, right, and center, the revolutionaries are Reducing them-- taking away most of their advanced brain function. The only person who seems capable of rescuing them is Persis, because she is awesome like that.
And Persis is awesome. Way awesome. As they say, it takes a lot of smarts to play dumb, and Persis plays dumb with the best of them. She is the brilliant daughter of a nobleman and a reg woman--aka, a woman descended from natural-born Reduced, who were then cured with the Helo cure, invented by a woman named Persistence Helo two generations ago. If the world-building seems complex here, it's really not in the book. Peterfreund's world-building is sublime. I've never read anything like the technology and culture of Albion, Persis' home nation, which is like magical science-fiction, and it's wonderful. It's a very visual island, full of the bright colors of the South Pacific, and the nobles of Albion dress accordingly. Peterfreund has written a very lush world that I could see really clearly.
Alright, now, let's get to the good stuff: THE ROMANCE. Justen Helo is Galatean medic who's fed up with the way the revolution is going. He defects to Albion, helped along by the fact that he's descended from Persistence Helo, aka the woman who cured the Reduction, and because of REASONS, the Princess Isla of Albion (aka Persis' best friend), decides Persis and Justen should pretend to be in love.
Welcome to Gillian's Favorite Trope #2: Faking It and Not Ever Planning to Make It! But Of Course You Do Because This Is Fiction!
Justen and Persis Do Not Like Each Other and Banter Accordingly (Gillian's Favorite Trope #3). He has no idea that she's a secret political genius responsible for saving the lives of countless Galateans. He sees her as a dimwitted heiress who will distract him from the surrious biznuss he's got going on--trying to heal the Reduced Galatean refugees that his foster father--aka, the head of the revultion--is responsible for Reducing. Everybody has lots of secrets and there are lots of lies and Misunderstandings Galore (Gillian's Favorite Trope #4). WHY CAN'T YOU GUYS SEE HOW PERFECT YOU ARE FOR EACH OTHER??
One of my favorite things about this book is how it plays with gender. There are three intelligent women in roles of power in this book, and they are all perpetually underestimated: Princess Isla, the pretty teenage regent of Albion; Persis, who uses the fact that she's underestimated to her advantage; and Justen's Galatean foster sister, Vania, a member of the Galatean ministry who is not respected by the men around her.
Albion is a deeply sexist country. Galatea, clearly, has women in high-power vocations. And yet neither country every questions to commonly held idea that the Wild Poppy is a man. Justen continually dismisses Persis as silly, shallow, and unserious, and Persis plays this up, because she can't blow her cover. Nobody can ever find out who she really is, or the jig will be up. OH COUPLE, HOW I SHIP THEE. I SHIP THEE MIGHTILY.
Until the last page.
I won't get all spoilery, but I will say that, though the last page had some resolution of the plot and romance, I WANTED MORE. One more book? One more chapter? A teensy, tiny, baby epilogue? I MUST KNOW. I MUST SEE. You cannot build up all those shippy coupley FEELINGS in me and then just... *SOBS*
And yet, alas, there will be no sequel. It felt to me like the ending finished mid-sentence. That last scene could have been stretched out. I'd also like to know what Persis and Justen and Remy do after the book ends. I have a lot of questions, and it doesn't seem like they'll ever be answered.
Still, I definitely recommend this book, for romancey, tropey goodness, fun times, and world-building excellence. And then you can join my Persis/Justen ship (Persten? Justis? JUSTIS. Persis would so approve of that).