Jane’s Book Review – For Darkness Shows the Stars

There is a genre called fan-fiction that continue the stories started in other books.  In the world of Jane Austen fan-fic, there are thousands, and, although I haven’t read them all, I’ve certainly read more than my share.  The most unusual of these books is For Darkness Shows the Stars, a fanfic “mashup” of JA’s Persuasion and dystopian science fiction

Set in the future, after genetic experimentation caused a plague known as the Reduction, most of mankind was indeed reduced mentally.  Only a handful of technophobes were spared as they huddled in vast underground caverns.  Now these “Luddites” as they proudly call themselves, are an aristocratic minority, who employ the “Reduced” as field workers and house servants on their vast plantations.  The North family, once prosperous, has fallen on hard times, kept afloat only by the ingenuity and hard work of the second daughter, Elliott.  Baron North and his eldest daughter idle away their time, spending money they don’t have.  Elliott’s dead mother trained her to be responsible and care for the Reduced and the estate, a duty not shared by the rest of her family.  Elliot grew close to a servant called Kai.  Kai and his father are what are known as Post, for Post-Reduction -- children of Reduced who are free of the Reduction effects.  They are both talented mechanics and keep the old farm machinery in working order.  Kai and Elliot fell in love, but Kai grew increasingly constrained by his role and left the plantation.  He had asked Elliott to come with him, but her responsibilities to the welfare of the people on the North estate were too strong for her to leave.  She still writes notes to Kai, as they did when they were children, pouring out her love and grief in letters she hides in her office in the barn.  She also hides in her office her notes for her genetic experiments in a new strain of wheat which should improve the yield and help feed her people through the upcoming winter – a dangerous experiment considering the attitude of all Luddites, especially her father, to any tinkering with the “Protocols,” a set of commandments meant to keep technology at bay.

Enter a new source of income.  Her maternal Grandfather, known as the Boatwright, owns the neighboring estate which houses a ship-building yard and a group of seafaring Posts want to rent it and the land around it.  Among them is the renowned Captain Malakai Wentworth, none other than Elliott’s Kai, grown up and successful as he said he would become.  He and the other in the Cloud Fleet bring with them many items of new technology, which the Luddites are eager to embrace.  The Fleet maintains they discovered the Innovation horses and the suncarts on remote islands but Elliott begins to feel that may not be the truth.  One feeling that is true is the casual cruelty with which she is treated by Kai.   Elliott is torn, for is she truly a Luddite, with her enhanced wheat?  How this all resolves itself will be familiar and yet different to fans of Persuasion.

Persuasion is one of my two favorite Austen books and at first I had a hard time coming to grips with the familiar story in the unfamiliar setting.  But I persevered and was rewarded with a thoroughly unique reading experience.  Thank you, Tessa, for the fervent recommendation!