Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund

I feel a bit sorry for my all-Romanian readers, but I want to be true to the language I read this book in, and write this review in English.

Considering that Sam from Thoughts on Tomes has praised this YA dystopian novel many, many times, I have become “curiouser and curiouser”, as the saying goes, and so I decided to give “For Darkness Shows the Stars” by Diana Peterfreund a well-deserved chance to enter my pantheon of “best YA novels I have ever read”. And let me just tell you, that it did!

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I had the inspiration to pick up this book when I was going through one of my YA phases, and I must say I enjoyed it tremendously! It was not a 5-star read, unfortunately, but it was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. Although I don’t usually read too much dystopian, I have grown quite fond of this genre especially when it’s well-combined with the YA genre. “For Darkness Shows…” is a mix of good ol’ dystopian, a “Persuasion” reinterpretation and an angsty youthful romance between two very complex and interesting characters, especially the female protagonist. I am not biased when I say this, because Elliot is the more developed character between the two, by far, and I love Diana Peterfreund for the way she has chosen to portray this 18-year old girl who is practically forced to battle her inner turmoil, between yearning to follow her heart, and duty to her people.

The book opens with a series of letters exchanged between the protagonists, while they are little kids and become friends, and we get a chance to find out about the society they live in through their words. Elliot is the daughter of the great North family, from the Northern side of the island, and Kai is the son of the mechanic on the farm, whose status is much lower than Elliot’s. However, the two kids soon become friends and roam the lands together, and while Elliot teaches Kai about their history from a long time ago, Kai teaches Elliot about more practical things, such as fixing a tractor or riding it. Things become really complicated when Elliot loses her mother, when she is fourteen, and she is comforted by Kai and realizes she loves him. Not like a friend or a brother, but like a boy, a future lover. However, Kai has bigger dreams than just staying on the farm and being a lowlife mechanic for the rest of his life, and he asks Elliot to go away with him to some free lands, where people like him are welcome and encouraged to make a new start in life. Elliot has her own circumstances and does not leave the North estate with Kai, and chaos soon ensues. Broken-hearted, on the one hand, from the debacle with Kai, and on the other hand, from the growing tensions between her and her father and sister, Elliot must learn to keep a frail peace in her heart, in her mind and on her farm, while her esteemed family become poorer and more and more workers are leaving the farm in hope for a better life. Fast forward to the present time and Elliot is a mature and responsible young woman, who is trying her best to keep the people on the farm as best fed as possible, even if she has to break a couple centuries-old rule that her family lives by. Kai comes back in her life as the prestigious navigator Malakai Wentworth, whose skills at sea equal those of any old sea dog. He does more than ignore her, he seems to hate her, and Elliot has to learn to make peace with this fact. Her heart hurts, but she has bigger things on her mind than her history with Kai. As Elliot learns some disturbing things about Kai and his entourage, she has to make some decisions which, if not well thought out, will haunt her for life. And a big showdown with her father is underway, which will change the way she sees her life and her family’s history for ever.

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What I have not told you about yet is the dystopian part of the story. Elliot and Kai live in an age where people have returned to the rudimentary means of living, as a result of the epic downfall of their ancestors from the good graces of technology. The people of long ago were so keen on improving their lives that they started playing God and worked wonders with the human DNA. They gave themselves better everything in terms of their bodies, and soon a disease started spreading. The moment they knew their offspring would be completely “reduced” (aka mentally retarded) they started nonsensical wars against each other, driven by no other ambition than apocalypse and death. However, a few families resisted this technological enhancement, and when the war was at its worst, they went underground to their sanctuaries, hoping to live enough to see the light of day again. After a couple generations, the North family and a few other families ventured to go above ground and they discovered a wilderness that was ripe for taking. Thus the new humanity flourished. What could not be ignored, however, were the children of the reduced, who started showing signs of being completely normal. Yet they could not be placed on the same position as the pure families who resisted the change, and so they became hands on farms, a kind of slaves to their owners. Throughout his entire life, Kai is torn by his ancestry and he is confused at first, and then angry as to his condition in this new society and new life. So he rebels, while Elliot is starting to become conflicted as to her duty to the “children of the reduction” on her farm. They are both basically trying to find their way in life, and while one of them decides to take the safe path, the other one takes the more adventurous one.

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That is pretty much everything I am going to say about the story because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but I must say this: Diana Peterfreund has a really lovely way of writing and building characters, and while I enjoyed this book a lot, I was still irked by the many, many questions I could not answer throughout it. I know this is part of a series, and maybe the next books will offer more depth, but I was still hoping for more world-building and a more vast description of the “old” technology. I had so many “whys” reading this story, that I just couldn’t give it a 5-star rating! :/ And I feel sorry for that.

As for the love story, fret not, it is well done! 😀 “Persuasion” has got to be perhaps my second favourite classical love story after “Far From the Madding Crowd”, and I love the history between Anne and Wentworth to bits! It’s the apex of romance as far as I’m concerned, and I was glad the author changed it up a bit WITHOUT ruining the good vibe that “Persuasion” still has for me today. Elliot and Kai’s story is a bit different from Anne and Wentworth’s, but the angstiness is what makes this read such a delicious one after all! Kai’s apparent hatred for Elliot broke my heart, but then I understood it completely in the second half of the book. I’m sorry to those who don’t feel like this too, but I truly believe that love and hate are interconnected and cannot be separated that easily. It was only natural that Kai’s feelings went from love to hate to love again in the angstiest display of emotions EVER! 😀 The scene in the barn between him and Elliot nearly made me tear up, it was so well-written! That’s all I’m ever going to say, so… I applaud Diana Peterfreund! She has written a book that kept me glued to my Nook, and I am so ready for the second one, soon!

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