For whatever reason, I always feel the need to explain in my reviews how I came to read the book I’m reviewing. I think it helps center me before I jump into the analysis (if I manage to get to the analysis and not just the summary). This one is easy… I blame the Cannonball Read. Based on gushing reviews of Diana Peterfreund’s series I picked up For Darkness Shows the Stars and then read the short stories, which should each be read before their matching books in order to facilitate world building.
Across a Star-Swept Sea is a companion novel to For Darkness Shows the Stars. FDStS is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and Across a Star-Swept Sea is a retelling of the Scarlet Pimpernel. A gender switched retelling of the Scarlet Pimpernel at that! Everything should be great… but it wasn’t. It was good, not great. The retelling itself was fun and generally well written, and the world Peterfreund is playing in is interesting, but the novel just never really hit for me. The story never sang.
There are two storylines happening at once in the book. Sharing a universe with FDStS, the Earth has been decimated by the Reduction, but in New Pacifica (two neighboring islands, Albion and Galatea), Reduction has been cured. The citizens of New Pacifica haven’t seen a natural-born reduced in two generations. But a new evil has been created — a “reduction” pill to use as punishment against those who speak out against the leaders of Galatea, who are in the midst of a revolution. The wealthy “aristos” are warring against the “regs”, and these pink reduction pills are being used on anyone who dares to commit treason. The Wild Poppy, our main protagonist Persis, is fighting to save the victims of this terrible crime.
The second plot focuses on Persis’ home island of Albion. Where the current princess, Persis’ best friend Isla, is simply a placeholder until her toddler brother comes of age. She’s gets little respect from her advisors and is insulted to her face constantly about her inability to rule. You see, over on Albion only men have power. Coming from that culture not only is the identity of The Wild Poppy a secret that very few know — but most assume that the spy is a brave, strong man.
There was so much that was good. SO MUCH that it feels almost scandalous to be rating this book a 3.5 and rounding down to 3. But… while Persis Blake as a strong female protagonist who is heroic because she looks at a situation and thinks “What can I do to help?” instead of “someone should really do something about that” and Peterfreund is blatantly feminist in the way she brings various viewpoints to the table and says “why not the girls and women? Why can’t they run the world?” there was still something missing, some undefinable quality that left me wanting. And I feel bad! I should love an adventure story where the movers and shakers are ladies! I should be excited that the love story is VERY secondary (it’s probably the tertiary plot) and that the boy in question, Justen Helo – grandson of the creator of the Cure that ended the Reduction, has plot motivations all his own and isn’t just window dressing. But… I’m just not in love. Perhaps a little tighter editing in the middle of the book would have helped keep me bounding along with the story, but we’ll never know.
However, I do suggest you read these books (Among the Nameless Stars, For Darkness Shows the Stars, The First Star to Fall, then Across the Star-Swept Sea) because they really are really good. I want there to be another full novel. I went searching the internet this morning to see if there was a third one planned. There’s still so much story to tell! And maybe that’s part of the problem I have with rounding this one up, I was left wanting more in the bad way, not the good way and that’s no fun after 450 pages.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.