For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfeund

This review is based on a uncorrected proof won through a contest on the author’s blog.

For Darkness Shows the Stars
Diana Peterfeund

The Premise: (from the back blurb) “It’s been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong–the Reduction–decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed technology.
Eighteen-year old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in the world. Four years ago she refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, instead choosing duty to her family’s estate. Since then the wold has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists threatens Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the Cloud Fleet, a group of explorers that includes a renowned Captain Malakai Wentforth–an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot what she gave up when she abandoned him.
But Elliot soon discovers Kai carries a secret–one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And 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.”

My Thoughts: The premise of For Darkness Shows the Stars was pretty much guaranteed to make me read it. It’s a retelling of Persuasion, my favorite Jane Austen book, and a futuristic romance? Um, yeah, sold.

In the futuristic world of For Darkness Shows the Stars, the social classes have been cleverly structured to mirror that of Regency England. The Luddite lords own all the land, and lives lives of noble leisure. Almost everyone else is Reduced. They are servants, trained by the Luddites to do simple tasks, and unable to take care of themselves. Many years ago, technology was abused, leading to to generations born with developmental difficulties (the Reduced) and world war. The Luddites were spared by their own caution, and now reap the benefits. But now there is also a new class – the Posts, rare children born from the Reduced that are just like the Luddites, but without their social position. As can be expected, their appearance has begun to shake up the social structure. Some Posts have run away from their estates and made their own fortunes in exploration and enterprise, forming a new class that is wealthy, if not noble.

Within the current social structure, the Norths are high ranking nobility. Elliot’s position allows her to manage the household since her sister, Tatiana, and her father, Baron Zachariah North, have no interest, but as the younger daughter of an estate to which she’s not an heir, Elliot has little power against her father. In the years since her mother’s death, Elliot has deflected the worst of his selfishness, but as far as Baron North is concerned, he is lord and master. He reinforces his supremacy over Elliot subtly, with punishments designed to hit Elliot where it hurts the most. His latest act is to cut down a field of wheat that Elliot had secretly modified to end the food shortage on the North lands. Beneath his casual callousness, Elliot fears that her father choose her wheat field on purpose.

The loss of the genetically modified wheat leads Elliot to convince her family to rent out her grandfather’s shipyard to the Cloud Fleet, even though the Fleet is staffed entirely by free Posts. Admiral Innovation of the Cloud Fleet brings with him an interesting assortment of wealthy and adventuring Posts, among them his wife Felicia, Captains Andromeda and Donovan Phoenix, and finally, Captain Malakai Wentforth. But when Elliot lays her eyes on Captain Wentforth, she gets a shock. He’s Kai, the young Post boy she fell in love with but failed to run away with four years ago.

The set up of the book has quite a few nods at the original Persuasion, with Elliot in reduced circumstances, her frivolous family spending money while she worries about bills, and a newly wealthy lower class as a means for the Norths to survive. But For Darkness Shows the Stars really takes at most the skeleton of the original as a guide, choosing to make social commentaries in it’s own, very different way. Instead of drama playing out under the surface in drawing rooms, this story is more out in the open. Elliot has a close relationship with Posts and Reduced on her estate, relying on her Post foreman Dee and others for advice, and often visiting Ro, a pretty Reduced girl her age, for company. While Elliot works with the Posts and Reduced, others in her social class treat them no more than indentured servants or slaves. There are several examples showing the huge divide between the Luddites and others. For instance, the birthing and healing houses for the Reduced and Posts. These places are ill-staffed, and inadequate. Many Posts, in no need to be treated like the Reduced are, leave their estates but fall prey poverty and new forms of abuse.

Kai/Malakai keenly feels the unfairness of the class system and questions it — why should he be servant and answerable to the Luddites when he has skills and a mind just as sharp if not sharper than theirs? Letters between Kai and Elliot through the years break up the story and are evidence of their attachment, but also show the two questioning the Luddite beliefs. The dynamics between classes plays a more obvious role when Kai left the North Estate, and Elliot stayed, and later, Kai more openly holds a grudge over Elliot’s rejection than in the original. When Malakai shows up again with other successful Posts, what he’s done to achieve that success also becomes a plot point.

I liked these differences from the original story. I’ve read a lot of retellings, and I always end up liking the stories that take the bones of the original but infuse it with its own flavor over those stories that rigidly follow the script. Baron North is more scary than he is vain. Several characters no longer exist or are in very different forms, and of course, names have been changed, but characters are still recognizable, if different. I liked the concept of a future where events have produced a class system similar to the Regency period, and that use of technology was linked to religion. I liked that this was cleverly incorporated into the conflict between characters. More cleverness: the clues about where the story was set (not in the U.K). I enjoyed that the settings for many of the scenes were unique to this retelling.

And how did I feel about the romance? Kai and Elliot’s correspondence peppering the book showed their early friendship as children, with only a few hints of their romance later. Where the romance really resonated for me was in Elliot’s internal anguish over Kai. Her emotions now, which she takes great pains to keep hidden, tell me more than anything else. Kai is harder to read — the third person narration focuses more on Elliot — and he was surprisingly bitter at the start of the story. Later on, I felt like he showed a different emotion but you had to read between the lines to guess how he felt, until the expected letter. Like the original, Kai’s inscrutability makes Elliot’s feelings more palpable, and it was on Elliot’s behalf that I rooted for the couple.  This wasn’t a story that was about a new love, it was about already being in love and sick with it. I wanted them to be reunited. I liked the way that happened, and how some of the class issues (at least at the North estate) were resolved. Some readers may have wanted more social issues settled, but I didn’t think the scope of the story would have made that realistic. This ending was a beginning, and I was happy with that.

For Darkness Shows the Stars is out June 10th, 2012.

Overall: This is one of my favorite retellings. Readers should not go into this expecting a story that follows the Persuasion formula to the letter, but since For Darkness Shows the Stars is set in a post-apocalyptic society where new advancements are frowned upon, things are bound to go off script. And they do, in the best way. I liked this for being an homage but also for being incredibly original at the same time.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger – “While overall this didn’t work for me”, recommends with reservations.
Angieville – “Everything about this book soars, from its supernal setting to the dreams its characters hold in their hearts.”

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Zombies vs. Unicorns by various authors, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Ah, anthologies!  I do love them and really should read more. I get to try out new authors and put the book down in nice short story length increments. Zombies vs. Unicorns started as a online argument on Justine Larbalestier’s blog, and then became a book. The humor in this “fight” shines through in the first pages where Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier discuss how the book came about, and again in their introductions before every story. It was fun to hear the argument from both sides as to whether zombies or unicorns are the better creature.

This review is for an ARC copy I received at BEA. Zombies vs. Unicorns comes out September 21st, 2010

My reviews are going to be brief impressions for each of the 12 stories as I read along.

1) The Highest Justice by Garth Nix – This is the story of a princess who calls the aid of a unicorn to avenge the death of her mother. I think this is a Team Unicorn story, but it’s hard to tell. Pretty straight forward revenge tale, with perhaps a little more violence than the princess bargained for. I think the author may have been aiming for a bit of “fairy tale creatures may be noble but extreme views of right and wrong are also rather creepy”, and he got it.

2) Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson – A teenage zombie finds himself going against his instincts when it comes to another teenage boy because of their shared love of Joy Division. A star-crossed lovers sort of tale, full of music references. Made me really want mac and cheese. Romantic yet grisly and perhaps doomed (or perhaps not).

3) Purity Test by Naomi Novik – a drunk teen girl on a park bench in New York City is accosted by a unicorn looking for a virgin to help him on his mission. This was a funny and cute one. The sarcastic banter plus their creative problem solving were very entertaining.

4) Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan – A dystopian zombie tale with the sheltered teenaged daughter of a powerful man as the protagonist. Loved the dystopian feel and the way this ends in a turning point for the protagonist. I wanted more. I also liked how the story jumps back and forth between past and present, but it was presented clearly. Good sense of place – even Papiamento (a creole language spoken in Curaçao) was interspersed (but I had trouble figuring out what the words meant since it was just off of what I knew to be Spanish).

5) A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan – Set in a medieval setting, this short story has three narrators who each witness a small part what happens to a princess after a mysterious event in the forest. This has some questionable bits in it  (lovely prose sort of shields you from a high ew factor). Haunting with a ‘ghost story’ vibe.

6) The Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson – a teen follows her boyfriend to a summer job in a farm in England, and meets some zombies.. a tongue-in-cheek story that has an interesting take on who and what could start a zombie epidemic.

7) The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund – I believe this is set in the same world as Peterfreund’s Killer Unicorn series (unicorns were once extinct but have reappeared and certain girls have the power to hunt them). The narrator is a teen girl who is an untrained unicorn hunter, so they are drawn to her. One has already killed her cousins. This story had some good growing pains – questioning parents and beliefs, and felt like it could be the seed of a whole book. Liked this one.

8 ) Inoculata by Scott Westerfeld – This is about teens post-zombie-apocalypse living in a gated, zee-free farm with some adults that have protected them. Surrounding the chain mail fence are zombies waiting outside. Interesting take on a communal life after escaping the zombie horde from a teen POV (which includes teen rebellion and crushes). Another one where I wished I could find out what happened next.

9) Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot –  A teen gets a unicorn for her 17th birthday. A glowing, farting rainbows kind of unicorn. I think Cabot had a lot of fun creating a unicorn that fits an extreme schoolgirl fantasy, and giving it to a teenaged girl who’s been a little bit jaded by life. I liked this one. Fun but also with a bit of a message for girls.

10) Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare – The girlfriend of the Duke-to-Be witnesses her boyfriend die and then come back to life in Lychgate, a town cursed to have it’s dead come back to life. This had a modern-day fairytale feeling to it, with a combination of Old World traditions in a place that has modern day technology. The ending is an odd combination of both comforting and creepy.

11) The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey – This is told from the first person POV of a unicorn who has lived a long time and although he can heal people, there’s a price for it. He’s been wandering the world looking for the perfect combination of purity and need. I don’t think I really understood this unicorn but I’m glad I didn’t. This story speaks to a dark place.

12) Prom Night by Libba Bray – Another post zombie-apocalypse story, where the adults are all gone and teens keep the town running. The story is told from the first person POV of a teen who stepped in as law enforcement as the kids in town gear up for the Prom. This was a tale which I thought had an interesting message about hope and survival when there is none.

Overall: There was a consistent level of quality in these stories that impressed me. I don’t think I encountered a dud in the bunch and every one left me with something to think about. This is one of the better anthologies I’ve read in a while, although I would warn that much of it is grim and gory and there are only a couple of light stories. I tried to decide which were my favorites and really had a hard time. I finally settled on Meg Cabot’s for my favorite light story, Margo Lanagan’s for my favorite dark (and disturbing), and Diana Peterfreund’s for something in between. Uh oh, all unicorn tales… let the hate mail from Team Zombie begin.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – various ratings for each story, 7 overall (very good) –  with a giveaway that ends Sat August 21st.
Karissa’s Reading Review – “An above average collection of stories”

Since there are SO many dystopian stories in the bunch..
Dystopian-august

Reading Raves: Author recommendations

Ranting & raving is something I do periodically on this blog. Look for the “rants and raves” category for past rants and raves.

You know what I love? When an author has a page on their website devoted to recommendations. I’m not saying that this is something all authors should do, but it sure is nice. It caters to my nosiness – what books do you like in the genres you write? Peering at someone’s bookshelves is similar – I want to know what you read, but to have a list of recommendations – I can find out what your favorites are. If I find myself agreeing to an author’s picks I’m inclined to try them out if I’ve never read their books before. I also like how it gives me yet another place to find new-to-me books (as if there aren’t enough places).

The Winter of Enchantment

I have tried out some books based on author’s recommendations on their websites. Sherwood Smith is why I  tried Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Neil Gaiman is why I read The Winter of Enchantment by Victoria  Walker (I read the book before I had a book blog, so the review is only on paperbackswap and goodreads – Goodreads). I  thought The Winter of Enchantment was very lovely imagewise, only OK plotwise, but I’m glad I read it. And  Greensleeves I recommend heartily, but it’s sadly out of print and not cheap to find used online.

Here are some Author Recommendations:

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, Book 1) Nine Coaches Waiting His Dark Materials Trilogy: "Northern Lights", "Subtle Knife", "Amber Spyglass"

Kristin Cashore recommends Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Cynthia Voigt’s Novels of the Kingdom, Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books, Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, and others.

The Blue Sword The Changeling Sea The Warrior's Apprentice

Rachel Neumeier recommends 14 books including The Changeling Sea, by Patricia McKillip, The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, Cukoo’s Egg, by CJ Cherryh, The Warrior’s Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold, and A Certain Slant of Light, by Laura Whitcomb

Song of Scarabaeus In the Company of Others Foreigner

In 2009, Linnea Sinclair recommended in her fan forums Sara Creasy’s Song of Scarabaeus, Julie Czernada’s In the Company of Others, and C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series and I’ve put those all on my to-read-one-day list.

Howl's Moving Castle The Dark Is Rising (The Dark Is Rising Sequence) Madeleine's A Wrinkle (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Paperback - May 1, 2007))

Holly Black‘s Suggested Reading List has Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’ Engle, Mary Stewart, Peter Beagle, Tanith Lee, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones,and Michael Moorcock on it, to name a few (she’s also yet another one who recommends Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books)

Riddle-Master The Westing Game [WESTING GAME] Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer

Shannon Hale has a lovely long list of recommendations on her website. So many. I love it. She recommends gems like Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy, by Patricia McKillip, and Tales from the Sisters Grimmer, by Tanith Lee. (I must say I like her husband’s recs at the bottom of her list too).

Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book Nine Layers of Sky Mr. Impossible

Ann Aguirre sometimes posts about books she loved on her blog, and I pay attention. She’s recommended Diana Pharaoh Francis’ Bitter Night, and Liz William’s Nine Layers of Sky, both on my TBR, as well as Jeri Smith-Ready and intriguing romances with idiot heroes.

The Once and Future King Devil's Cub Moominsummer Madness   [MOOMINSUMMER MADNESS] [Paperback]

Garth Nix also wrote a long list of recommendations (ah, quite delightful), called “Books Remembered: An Alphabetical Remembrance“.  He also has The Winter of Enchantment listed, along with Georgette Heyer, Tove Jansson, Ursula Le Guin and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King (which really should be required reading).

Dull Boy Make Me Yours (Harlequin Blaze) Beastly

Diana Peterfreund is really an author I should be reading since Angie keeps recommending her books and Angie tends to be right (How annoying. Gives my TBR pile grief). This thought is backed up with recommendations that look good, like in her post “Why isn’t Everyone reading…?” where she recommends Sarah Cross’ Dull Boy, Betina Krahn, and oh there it is (again!), the Attolia books. I think she also shares my opinion on retellings (basically I ♥ them mucho).

I know I’ve seen more lists on author’s websites, but let’s stop there. Are there lists that you recommend I look at? Do tell!