For Darkness Shows the Stars - Diana Peterfreund

"'What's so funny? […] That you take a little spill from a horse and everyone wants to rearrange the world so you don't suffer a moment of inconvenience?' 'No,' she said, and her voice was even. 'That I would wait a month in agony just to hear you insult me. I'm a miserable girl indeed, don't you think?'"

The lion’s share of my rating decision is always based on my own personal enjoyment of a book. And my ability to enjoy a book certainly depends on the characters and how they manage to move me, the world-building, the believability, the writing style, the pull, the absence or existence of certain things, but expectations and my reading history play a great part, too (This is, by the way, also one of the reasons why I want the option to rate each book more than once). I loved-loved reading this dystopian young adult adaption of my favorite Jane Austen novel so much that I went on reading on my walk from the train station to my workplace, and that I did not mind the embarrassing stares from other commuters, when I soaked tissue after tissue in plain view, because feeling so sorry for Elliot North hurt almost as bad as feeling sorry for Anne Elliot does. I would not say the book is perfect or flawless. Persuasion is, in my eyes, but I did not expect perfection. But what did I expect? Obviously my expectations were somehow met, but apart from the fact that they were astonishingly high in spite of my extreme dislike for Diana Peterfreund’s unicorn experiment Rampant, I did not press them into a shape before starting to read. But maybe I can reconstruct them so the still undecided potential reader can compare them to her own.

I am one of those young adult fiction readers who rather embrace both the still raging dystopian trend and the slowly rising science fiction tendency as long as the world building is not so vague that my reading process slows dangerously down towards a full-stop, because of all the question marks in my head that beg to be dealt with, or so silly and illogical that little Miss Sneer gets comfortable on my shoulder and starts whispering atrocious ways to make fun of the whole mess into my weary ear. When I encountered the first descriptions of For Darkness Shows the Stars I hoped for “Persuasion in Space”. Some reading experiences later I shifted my hope in the direction of something like "Landry Park" by Bethany Hagen, also an Austen-like love story set in front of a neo-feudalism future, which shows a lavish elite in a small, autarkic America exploiting and oppressing the the descendants of those people, who supposedly caused the nation's fall, by forcing them to handle nuclear waste. That second expectation has been fulfilled to the dot: Peterfreund's post-apocalyptic structure is quite similar, although the upper class' mindset is different: The heroine's ancestors survived with their genes and brains intact, because they condemned genetic enhancements and prosthetic organs on principle, while the majority of their high-tech-loving society involuntarily “reduced” their own and their offspring's brains to something functioning on toddler-level. The conservative survivors felt that their reluctance to play God had been rewarded. Consequently they shunned the non-bio-technological progress that had been made shortly before the so-called “Reduction” as well - including solar lamps and solar-powered vehicles. They embraced their new god-given superiority and kept their mentally reduced subjects alive by feeding and clothing and controlling them in exchange for hard labor. The recent increase of mentally healthy born “Children of the Reduction”, who call themselves “Post-Reductionists”, demand being granted freedom of choice and equal rights and are not afraid to tinker with forbidden technology, shakes up the regressing system of wealthy, God-fearing slave-owners and crumbling, rusty machinery. Although not much is said concerning where on our globe this small, secluded island is and how life looks like in "Channel City" or other places outside the large estates, I was very content with the world-building. I am aware that others might find fault, but I thought that the situation on the brink of a possible revolution was the perfect back-drop for a "forbidden" romance.

Romance. Oh yes. In a novel that is meant to be reminiscent of Jane Austen's work I expected romance. Preferably some that swelters and slowly burns and involves misunderstandings, old wounds, clever bickering, heated discussions about morals, love, society and the burden of being part of a family, musings about having to do the right thing, and letters and haughtiness and involuntary touches and the angst to be too late or to have made the wrong decision. A romance between a heroine I thoroughly adore and admire - in spite of her little flaws - and a swoon-worthy guy, who has his pride or his aloofness, who struggles with his feelings, but who is ultimately the good guy. That expectation was very well met.

I think I tentatively wished for a reincarnation of Persuasion's cast. Not only because Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth are my favorite Austen couple, but also because the Musgrove family, specifically Charles, his mother and Anne's younger sister Mary are such a fabulous breeding ground for Austen's trademark wicked fun and for the emergence of squirm-worthy encounters between Anne and Captain Wentworth. In For Darkness Shows the Stars no clones are to be found. But true to her Post-Reductionist protagonists' mind-frames Peterfreund did not hesitate to mix and match, to experiment with Austen's best outcrop: You will find a lot of Anne and more than a half of Captain Wentworth; Elizabeth and Mary are conglomerated into still-unmarried Tatiana, Baron North is at first as silly and vain and self-centered as Sir Walter, but surprises us later with additional character traits. The Admiral, his wife and Captain Benwick play a much greater role, while Lady Russel, Mrs. Smith and the older Musgroves are absent. Louisa and Henrietta work beautifully as one person, Mr. Elliot has a new shell, Charles is still available and not embarrassing at all and Mrs. Clay has been completely remodeled and relocated. Due to the focus on the new dystopian setting previously unknown characters are introduced. In this aspect my expectations have not exactly been met, but apart from craving a little dose of satire I did not suffer any want. For I learned to my own surprise that I really loved to hunt for traces of the well-loved characters in the newly created ones and I discovered that the chemistry and the relationships between Elliot and Kai, Elliot and her sister/father, Elliot and her neighbors and tenants strongly resembled the ones of the original. And that the repercussions of Elliot's decisions affected me as much as Anne's decisions and Anne's feelings of right and wrong did.

I cannot say for sure, but when I look back at my recent reading habits - the occasional, self-prescribed re-reading of all-time favorites and the huge craving for something new, preferably fresh from the printing press – I am convinced that I did not really wish for a in-minute-detail-retelling of a story that I have read approximately eight times in the last 20 years and that in my opinion cannot be told in a better way than it already has been told. In my opinion that would have been the equivalent of a Shakespeare play translated into sparse, modern language and acted out on a Battlestar Galactica set. Diana Peterfreund uses the Persuasion storyline as an inspiration and rewards the reader now and then with scenes that make our inner detective snip our fingers in appreciation: "Ah! That will turn into 'The Long Walk', probably ending with some touching," or "This is probably the equivalent of the weekend in Lyme". I can only say I loved that feeling. To me rushing unexpectedly into these scenes felt like being surprised by old friends visiting. My expectations concerning the plot have been exceeded, so to say, although I have to admit I guessed the Innovation's party's big secret much too early and am not completely satisfied with the ending. How can Elliot feel suddenly so at ease leaving the lives of hundreds of workers in the hands of Dee, who is trustworthy, but inexperienced in managing an estate, and who will be defenseless, if Elliot's father chooses to attack in an imaginative way?

And finally I can say that this is the Persuasion retelling that I loved best of the three I have faced until now. I also liked Melissa Nathan's contemporary chicklit version "Persuading Annie", but I loathed the change of point-of-view in the fan-fiction-like "None But You".

What are your expectations, when you are faced with a retelling or an adaption of a story your adore and the decision whether to go for it or not?