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In the distant future: Elliot belongs to the social class of the Ludites, those people who honoured God’s will and escaped the “Reduction”, which caused a generation of mentally disabled children. It’s been a long time until their children were born completely healthy again – they’re the Posts, as they call themselves. Kai’s one of them, as was his father. Both of them worked for the Norths, Elliot’s family.
An unexpected friendship formed between those two, but it couldn’t overcome the differences of their social classes. Today, Elliot is responsible for the North Estate, though not officially. Kai is long gone, but they didn’t part on friendly terms. Elliot had her own reasons to stay behind, which he failed to understand and let him leave hurt. Now he’s coming back and they get a new chance to clear up what happened all those years ago – but how are they supposed to do that if anger and bitterness cloud their judgement?
“For Darkness Shows the Stars” is a post-apocalyptic re-telling of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”. I’ve read this book once some years ago, so I’m no expert when it comes to the parallels between the two books. That much I can say, though: my memory of the original might be incomplete, but some scenes in Diana Peterfreund’s interpretation felt very familiar; the ending also won’t be a surprise to anybody who knows the older text. That’s nothing bad, because on the one hand, parallels had to be expected and it’s interesting to see how the author put some elements into her story. On the other hand, the result of the romance is not the part of the story that’s supposed to be thrilling; “For Darkness Shows the Stars” has much more to offer.
The story is set in the future, which is quite unusual, if you consider the time specific problems Jane Austen’s novels dealt with. However, here society might be several years into the future, socially they went backwards. The reason for that is easy to find: with growing knowledge on technology and medicine, humanity became reckless until they changed their genes so much their children were born disabled. Those clinging to their religion were left unharmed, because they refused any treatment – they’re the Ludites. After the “Reduction” they were the only ones left that were able to take leadership – and they did. Bethinking themselves of past times, they created a system where the class you are born into is the most important aspect of your life, and where the “lower” ones are considered mere workers or even slaves. Now the setting isn’t so unlike Jane Austen’s any longer.
I have to admit I’d have loved to have more explanations for this part. What exactly caused the “Reduction”, are the scientists really the ones responsible? It’s not unlikely, but I can also imagine that religious fanatics manipulated treatments so they could be the ones who were right in the end. Saying it has been God’s punishment for humanity’s arrogance, is nonsense to me. Fortunately, Diana Peterfreund doesn’t say that it had a supernatural cause; she makes a point in saying that we can’t know what God’s will is, or if there even is a God. I’m satisfied with that, so the missing explanations are just a minor detail – besides, we can’t know all the reasons. The Ludites banned nearly all technology and research can only be done in secrecy.
“For Darkness Shows the Stars” isn’t so much a love story; at least not to the extent I expected it to be.
Elliot and Kai are two wonderful characters, though I often would have liked to hammer some insight and reason into the latter’s head. Surprisingly, it was him who realized truths that Elliot could not see as a child. We get to know their relationship through letters they wrote each other. They aren’t in any chronological order: sometimes they’re eight years old, then fourteen, sometimes Kai has already left, sometimes he’s still there … step by step their past and their feelings for each other are revealed. What started as a friendship became something more, even though they did not always agree with each other. Quite often it’s Elliot who is caught in the way of thinking of the Ludites, but you can’t really blame her for it, just as you can’t hold a grudge against her for her the unfortunate words she sometimes chooses. She can learn, and that’s also what she does in the story’s present: she learns and she sees her mistakes.
Later it’s her who is aware of the greater good and what is necessary. Yes, she decided against going with Kai and preferred to take care of the North Estate. She didn’t do it because of greed, but because of her sense of responsibility. You can criticize the system a lot, but if done correctly it can be a fair and good place to work at, where you’re a human first and then a worker. That’s what Elliot wants and what Kai can’t see. Every now and then it gets frustrating to witness his behaviour, but in the end this is something in favour of the books: Diana Peterfreund created characters that aren’t painted in black and white, and that you like despite their (many) mistakes. The former applies to all characters, the latter not. Well, you can’t like everybody.
Between those emotional twists and turns, a love story has only so much space left. To be honest – and I would have never thought that I was ever going to say something like this – I would have liked more romance. I missed the fluid development of their relationship – I wanted more scenes with Kai and Elliot together, more awkward moments, more insight, well, more romance. There wasn’t much that came from Kai, but this is no surprise. After all, the story’s told from Elliot’s point of view.
Still, it was by no means boring. As I already mentioned: If you know “Persuasion” or Jane Austen in general, the romance is not the most important reason to read this book.
What kept me reading was the question of what’s going to happen with the North Estate. Not because I wished for the North family’s welfare – I wondered what was going to happen to the people living there. The situation has been bad since Elliot’s mother died. Her father is not capable of leading this business. He rather spends money he doesn’t have, always supported by his eldest daughter. It’s Elliot who tries to protect the workers from her father and her family from ruin, but more often or not, her father won’t listen when she tries to talk to him reasonably.
It’s a situation that raises interesting and important question. Elliot grew up believing that God punished humanity for its godlessness and that especially genetic manipulation is a sin that might cause another punishment. But it seems as though this is the last chance that Elliot has to save those she holds dear. What if she doesn’t experiment on people, but on wheat? Can that be bad?
She constantly has to question herself about what’s good and what’s wrong. She has to question the values she was taught. She has to reflect on her behaviour in the present and past, has to see her mistakes and learn to live with them. She has to find out how to deal with the responsibility, how far she’s ready to go. She has to make sacrifices and she has to know her limits.
Those are questions many have to ask themselves, though in other contexts and to other degrees. “For Darkness Shows the Stars” shows us that sometimes there aren’t definite answers. We have to act in a way we can live with. It shows us that sacrifices are not for naught, but that sometimes our reward doesn’t fit into the perfect life we wish for – sometimes. It shows us that it’s worth going on.
“For Darkness Shows the Stars” might not use all the potential it has, still it’s a very nice re-telling of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”. Diana Peterfreund convinces with well developed and often likable characters, and questions most of us will be confronted with in one way or another. However, she won’t force an answer onto you, but shows how it can be. If a book is worth reading, it’s this one.