This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.
Last year, when I reviewed For Darkness Shows the Stars, I said that I wasn't sure if I could take another classic novel reboot. But, authors and filmmakers persist in doing these reboots because we love the original stories enough to make them classics, and so we go on.
I was about eleven when I first struggled through a 1940's version of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. The only name on the unadorned and very old spine was Baroness Orczy - which I thought was a pseudonym,but you'll be impressed to know that Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orczi was a Hungarian-born British novelist, playwright and artist of noble origin. I loved the book, I loved the creaky old 1934 version with Leslie Howard, and egads, let's not talk about the 1982 version with Anthony Andrews. That was THE high school go-to feel good movie for my eldest sister's friends, and I loved it, too (though I was not quite as enamored of Jane Seymour with that big hair. I mean, sister had BIG hair.) Now, we know the basic premise - the tale of a spy during the French Revolution - and I wondered what magic Diane Peterfreund was going use - along with her retelling of PERSUASION - to make it into a story I loved.
Well, she didn't. She made a whole new story to love. Which is the best kind of alchemy of all.
There was a lot of drama regarding the cover of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, alleging white-washing, because the main character was meant to be of Pacific Islander descent - but from the far future or whatnot. I appreciated the author and the publisher sticking to their guns - as this is fantasy, and who knows what "ethnic" will look like in the future? - and also I disliked the instant hostility from some who hadn't even read the book or considered the issues. I am sure that the author and design team stand by this cover as well - an island girl with bleached dreadlocks and a foofy dress that looks a lot like water and stars is exactly as described in the book, and after reading it, you may feel the island girl is a bit pale, but it's important not to try and categorize someone's ethnicity by some unstated set of rules. This is an artist's conception of an Albion girl - whatever else she is, we can at least agree on that.
Concerning Character: In this novel, we're introduced to another bright, strong-willed girl: Princess Isla. After the unexpected and accidental death of her father and elder brother, she's ascended the throne of Albion, holding it for her infant brother. He must have a kingdom to rule in twenty years time, and so she grits her teeth and does what she must. Of course, women in Albion shouldn't be in a position of power. They're only role is to be ornamental, and to marry well... but things have changed. Isla is battered by older courtiers and Lords, bullied and bossed. Does no one take her seriously?
With her bleached dreadlocks and her frothy outfits, nobody ever takes Persis Blake seriously. In the six months since she's dropped out of school, she's carefully camouflaged the fact that she's brilliant and strong-willed, but that's how she likes it. As one of Isla's closest friends and her lady in waiting, she's got a job to do. On the neighboring island kingdom of Galatea, where the Reduced were held in slavery and the aristos ground them under the heel of their rule, the peasants have revolted... and are revolting in their treatment of their former masters. They're drugging them to destroy their minds. SOMEBODY has to do something. Not every aristocrat is guilty and deserves death... actually, Persis isn't sure who deserves death, and who deserves life, but she knows those decisions shouldn't be in the hands of just anyone. Isla's hands are tied -- she cannot start a war on behalf of people not her own. But, the Wild Poppy - spy, provocateur, savior - can act in her stead... mostly in her stead, anyway. When Isla knows what she's doing, anyway. Something has changed with Persis, and she's taking bigger and bigger risks. She's going to get herself killed - and then what will Isla do?
Justen's whole life and family line has been about helping to free the Reduced from their circumstances, but now that the former slaves are in charge, Justen cannot countenance what's being done to their former masters. Not as a future doctor, whose task is to save. Not as a Galatean. And, not as a human being. Hiding in Albion seemed like a great idea at first, but the safety of his sister, and of his country isn't something he can turn his back on... He MUST find the spy known as the Wild Poppy, or the lives lost could include his own.
The islands of New Pacifica know their past - the world was almost destroyed, once, through stupidity and greed. There's no way that they could plunge back into that darkness again... is there?
Fast-paced, fraught with suspense and painful misunderstandings, this book will be a treat for lovers of The Scarlet Pimpernel films, and hopefully give impetus for new discovery of the book.
Book received from publisher for Cybils. You can find your copy of ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA by Diane Peterfreund online, or at an independent bookstore near you!