A few weeks ago, I came across Molly’s So You Read the Hunger Games flow chart, which suggests in a lighthearted way that, after reading The Hunger Games, those who haven’t read the next layer of similar books are “living under a rock.” Considering that I haven’t even read The Hunger Games, I must be living well below the earth’s crust, not just under a rock. As someone who typically has a low tolerance for alternate universes (just not my cup of tea), I have no inclination to read books like The Hunger Games, but one of the novels on Molly’s chart did catch my eye:
So, being a Jane Austen fan, I purchased the ebook version of Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars and added it to my reading list. This is the third book I’ve read thanks to Molly’s reviews, and, so far, she hasn’t steered me wrong.*
For Darkness Shows the Stars is a post-apocalyptic re-telling of Austen’s Persuasion. Austen’s Anne Elliot, the daughter of a spendthrift Baronet, becomes Peterfreund’s Elliot North, the daughter of a wasteful “Luddite.” The Luddites sit at the top of the social hierarchy, where they own the estates on which the “Posts” and the “Reduced” live and work as servants. (You’ll have to read the novel to learn how the Luddites—those opposed to technological innovation—ended up on top.)
In this dystopian world, Elliot falls in love with Kai, a “Post” servant. He returns Elliot’s affection, but ends up leaving the estate with a broken heart. Years later, Kai returns with a new name, Captain Malakai Wentforth, an obvious reference to Austen’s Captain Frederick Wentworth, and a new purpose: challenging the social order.
Peterfreund’s novel invokes our own sordid history in the United States, including tensions during Reconstruction, and also contains parallels to modern issues. For example, in this Luddite–dominated world, Luddites can marry and become husbands/wives, while the rest are united as “common laws,” which is a less formal arrangement, perhaps akin to common law marriage in the few states in the U.S. that still offer it.
The contours of these unions are unclear, and free-Posts (like Felicia and Nicodemus) “do not subscribe to the restrictions the Luddites place on their servants,” but the different labels for marital statuses reminds me of the current battle over terminology in the arena of LGBTQ rights — i.e., “marriage” versus “civil union.” The legal substance of a civil marriage and a civil union is usually the same, but the message conveyed is considerably different.
The analogy to same-sex marriage applies even to the reasons Luddites give for maintaining the traditional concept of marriage. For example, Tatiana, Elliot’s sister, opposes intermarriage between Luddites and Posts. When Elliot asks Tatiana why she cares when it’s “a relationship between two people so unconnected to you,” Tatiana replies, “It’s the principle of the thing!,” sounding very much like opponents of same-sex marriage who can’t articulate why the legal status of other people’s relationships bothers them so much.
In the context of this oppressive world, it’s easy to root for the Posts and for Elliot and Kai, hoping they will rekindle their romance. The relationship between Elliot and Kai is the best part of the novel, and follows Persuasion closely. This novel borrows heavily from Austen, but its setting and additional themes render it an interesting homage to Austen’s classic novel, as opposed to yet another rip-off.