In one of my first posts on The Hub, I mentioned that I enjoy the notion of synchronicity. If you hear about something over and over from seemingly unrelated sources, it’s worth making a connection. Once three similar things get my attention, they begin to coalesce. Here’s my latest occurrence: Jane Austen, outside the box.
Jane Austen adaptations are ubiquitous, and a lot of them are pretty similar. This is not really a bad thing. The stories are captivating and the characters are familiar enough to feel like family. Curiosity about which particular details each adaptation will highlight is enough to intrigue me into almost any version of an Austen story. These, however, are something more.
Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars is a science fiction story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The fact of this alone is intriguing. The execution is a balanced blend of original and adapted ideas, science fiction world building and heart-wrenching romance.
The apocalypse in this world was caused by genetic experimentation. In the generations since the Reduction, much of the human population is reduced in intellect, while a class of technology abstaining Luddites rules. In recent years, Post-Reductionists, normal children born to the Reduced, are coming into being. Elliot, the daughter of a Luddite plantation owner, exchanged letters from the age of six with Kai, the son of a mechanic. They fell in love as young teens, and Kai asked Elliot to run away with him. Elliot said no. She could not leave the plantation’s inhabitants to her uncaring father’s whims. For four years, Elliot has done her duty despite her broken heart.
When the Cloud Fleet comes to rent her family’s land for ship building, they bring Captain Malakai Wenforth along with their unprejudiced ideas about technology. Kai has changed so much — time and heartbreak have pushed him far away from Elliot — but their chemistry is undeniable. Each chapter begins with letters between Elliott and Kai from when they were younger, giving context to the depth of their relationship and their world. The bulk of the story is narrated by Elliot, allowing the reader to closely follow her range of emotions at having Kai in her life again, while leaving Kai’s feelings and motives mysterious. In addition to borrowing their delayed love story, Peterfreund’s characters borrow their names from Austen’s Anne Elliot and Frank Wentworth. As Elliot struggles over her feelings for Kai, her people struggle between the safety of tradition and the risk of scientific experimentation. Peterfreund is writing another book set in this world. Across a Star-Swept Sea, due to come out next year, takes its inspiration from The Scarlet Pimpernel.