Half agony, half hope, all YA dystopia

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Reading Challenge: A romance set in the future.

As I may have mentioned before, I love well-done retellings of classic stories. I also love Jane Austen, and of Jane Austen’s 6 published novels, the one I love the most, hands down, is Persuasion. So when I needed to find a book to fulfill the “romance set in the future” item, and came across this YA dystopia Persuasion, I kind of had to give it a shot.

You know, I really liked it? I knew we were in good hands when the book opened with a lot of world-building and class tension. Elliot was a sympathetic heroine, a little passive but still with her own agenda. The dystopia was not gratuitously gritty but felt fairly realistic, and (and this is key) the whole book stood on its own, without the single-minded devotion to the original plot that’s been the downfall of many a retelling. I do firmly believe this book could be read and enjoyed by someone who had never read the original. It was an absorbing read throughout.

The Letter – man, The Letter in the original Persuasion has to be one of the most romantic documents in literary history. You really have to give Captain Wentworth a lot of credit for writing it, especially since he was writing while eavesdropping and probably distracted by other conversations going on in the room as well. I can barely write progress notes while report is going on in the office. Well done, sir.

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Anyway, The Letter in this version appeared in a way that wasn’t too contrived (something that has stumped many a contemporary author), although the timing might make some people with clinical training find it a little ambivalent. And it was a halfway decent homage to the original. Another point.

Also, there was one line towards the end that I thought was particularly moving right about now. One character was explaining how she had become more active on behalf of the Posts (the historical underclass of their society, still subject to discrimination), and said how she felt it was hypocritical to keep taking from their culture without becoming an ally in their struggles. Although this wasn’t a dystopia with a huge lot of applications in contemporary society, I think you can probably guess why I thought that line was so relevant…

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But overall, this was an escapist book. In order to enjoy it, you probably do have to be into YA fantasy, and be willing to suspend a lot of critical thinking. I was able to do that, although I couldn’t help noticing that, like many a YA hero before him, Kai didn’t do too much to convince us that he was worthy of so much affection. He’s way more appealing than many, many, many, many other YA heroes out there who rely on a range from sullen to grumpy to homicidal and our faith in the heroine’s affection to convince us they’re appealing, and at least he apologizes for being a dick later in the book, but Captain Wentworth he ain’t. I also couldn’t help wishing everyone was a little bit older. The age business meant we were supposed to be okay with an 18 year-old showing interest in a 14 year-old, about which I can only say, dystopia or not, YIKES.

Still, I liked it. I found myself really addicted, staying up to finish the book an hour past the time I said “I’m just going to read for a bit, I can barely stay awake.” It’s harder to give a reasonable review when I was so absorbed: when I down a book quickly, it’s much more difficult to regard the elements critically on the way. But that I think tells you plenty in itself. If you enjoy YA fantasy, you’ll probably enjoy this, and if you’re a Jane Austen fan to boot, you won’t hate it.

Recommended pairing: Clearly something with a pedigree. You know what’s got a pedigree? Weihenstephaner. Plus, a good summer beer.

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