I knew I had to read this book when I heard that it was basically Jane Austen’s Persuasion meets genetic engineering, and I’m glad I did!
Generations after tampering with genetic experimentation has gone wrong and caused the Reduction, Posts are being born, descendants of the Reduced who are no longer limited to the docile state of the Reduced. Meanwhile the Luddites rise to power, placing protocols in place to ensure that such a disaster never occurs again. Elliot, born and raised a Luddite, was once forced to choose between helping her family and their estate or running away with the Post boy she had grown to love over the years. When he returns four years later, the consequences of her choice continue to haunt her daily, and she comes to learn just how much the world is changing as Posts gain more wealth and power.
There was so much I adored about this book! It was not perfect, but let me outline some of my favorite elements…
The unique adaptation of Persuasion. I have not read Persuasion, though I have seen a film version of it and after reading this book, it has jumped much higher on my TBR list. Despite my limited exposure to it, it was obvious how much influence of the story was included. Not only is the basic premise there, but even the writing felt a bit Austen-esque (though more modern-day friendly). And the world-building supported it. The world-building in this story, I felt, was pretty strong. Somehow, Peterfreund was able to craft a world that was believably a part of the future, but also somewhat rooted in the past. The nobility structure of the Luddites mirrors the time in which Austen lived in, where estate owners live in wealth and where it is not uncommon for families to inter-marry (I guess Luddites really don’t worry much about genetics! o.O). I just loved how she merged the past and the future to create the technology-scared world as the perfect setting for an Austen-esque story. I loved the details that married past and future with the sun-carts that were used and the fashion the Posts wore.
I loved the MC, Elliot. She was independent but still loved and leaned on others. She was smart and stood her ground. She was fiercely loyal and self-motivated. I related to her a lot, at least personality-wise. But instead of irritating me (except when she wouldn’t give Kai a chance to talk to her, but more on that later), she inspired me. But she was not perfect. She constantly struggled over the beliefs of what she was raised to believe versus the changes she was seeing in her world. Sometimes others had to guide her and remind her that they were there for her and that she didn’t have to fight her demons alone.
The supporting characters were all unique in their own way. I did not feel any of the characters were one-dimensional. Though Elliot does paint her sister and her father out to be that way, we learn that there is more to both of them than meets the eye. Even Elliot’s Reduced friend, Ro, has a personality that can be clearly seen through her actions. I don’t have minor character that stands out as one that I really love, but I did appreciate them all in their own way.
The letters throughout the book. Elliot and Kai grew up together, and one of their favorite pastimes was writing letters to each other. At first the letters feel like basic background information, but then we see an increase in their relevance, as we see the philosophies of both Kai and Elliot forming at a young age. I like how through these letters, we can understand how the characters have developed to who they are when we meet them in the book.
The feels! Elliot goes through a wide range of emotions in this book, all for understandable reasons! When she practically hated Kai, I did too. When she grew hopeful maybe things would change back to the way they used to be with Kai, I felt my heart hope that for her too.
But this book was not perfect. Here’s what I didn’t love so much…
Kai was just a little too mean for a little too long. Again, I have not read Persuasion, but in the movie I don’t remember Captain Wentworth being just so flat-out mean. Kai deliberately stirs up Elliot’s anger for a good portion of the book, to the point where I wondered if I even really wanted Elliot to get back with him! Thankfully, he realizes how awful he’s been and tries to make it right, but Elliot will never talk to him for more than five minutes. Anytime the guy was trying to apologize or tell her he cared or anything, she would never listen very long. Even towards the end when she’s not as mad at him, it’s like she won’t trust herself to talk to him for more than a few minutes. The guy has to write out a letter to explain what he wants to (of course, that’s perfect given the nature of their relationship… but still)!
The sometimes slow pacing and long passages of time passed by. The first few chapters of the book felt clunky to me, not long, but like a strange, slow way to start a book. There’s an early chapter where we meet Ro, but other than the purpose of meeting her specifically as well as someone who is Reduced, it feels really pointless. We do learn things about Ro that carry throughout the book, but I really would have like to have seen something more from the chapter. I feel like Elliot explains a lot early on as well, instead of letting us discover things as the reader through dialogue and such, but thankfully this wanes over the book.
There were also times when periods of time would pass and we would only get a few sentences on what happened. I don’t mind this when used scarcely and when used correctly, but it happened a few times and there were times it felt awkward. Like Kai and Elliot would seem to be close to having a moment when their conversation is interrupted, and then we skip to months in the future with the indication that they have not interacted anymore in that time. I suppose in the nature of the story it is plausible, but it was utilized more times than I personally prefer.
The ending was rushed and not quite as emotionally satisfying as I was expecting. So Elliot finally figures out what Kai has been trying to tell her, that he cares for her still, and yet she continues to completely ignore him and intends to do so until he leaves. Then suddenly he leaves the letter explaining how she feels and she is running out the door without a care in the world, singing that she is going to actually run away with her love this time. I had no problem with this idea really, but it felt so crazy fast, and when it all came down to them finally being open to one another, I didn’t feel the tug at my heartstrings I was anticipating. (I did re-read the ending a second time and it did feel a little more emotionally satisfied, but it wasn’t to the degree I was hoping.)
I was left wanting more. Elliot spends the entire time struggling between what she was raised to believe, what choices Kai has made, and what the world seems to be becoming. I know there is another book coming out soon that is set in this same universe, and I’m glad Peterfreund did not leave us with an absolute answer of what is definitely right and what is definitely wrong in terms of what we do with genetic engineering, but I would have liked for Elliot to at least have either some sort of resolution or reconciliation… not necessarily to all her questions, because that might take a lifetime, but as how she will go forward with Kai and the Posts while still staying true to herself, as it was clear she had not completely converted to their beliefs, and I honestly don’t think she needed to, especially not just for the sake of love. I just wanted to know what she was thinking at the end when it came to all that, but the romantic story dominated at the end and wrapped the story up.
However, even with these problems, I just adored reading the book so much. I felt giving it 5 stars was too much, but 4 seemed too little, so I’m doing another half rating of 4.5 stars.
I will definitely be checking out Across a Star-Swept Sea, which is not about Elliot and Kai but takes place in the same world. It’s a very fascinating world and I can’t wait to learn even more about it!
Content Advisory: One mild word, no sex, no violence. Very clean!
Have you read For Darkness Shows the Stars? What are your thoughts on it?