by Diana Peterfreund
Published by Balzer + Bray
on October 15, 2013
Source: e-ARC requested from the publisher
Connect with the author: website | Twitter.
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Summary from author's website: Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction–the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars–is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever. Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.My take: Across a Star-Swept Sea is set in the same story world (though not the same geographic area of that world) as For Darkness Shows the Stars. Each book has a distinct and different feel, yet they still seem connected. Each book was also inspired by a different classic -- For Darkness Shows the Stars by Jane Austen's Persuasion and Across a Star-Swept Sea by Baroness Emmuska Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel. Both books have strong political themes and both deal with the aftermath of the same devastating event -- a genetic engineering experiment gone terribly wrong.
Across a Star-Swept Sea takes place in New Pacifica, a pair of islands that were made habitable after a devastating war:
|Map from dianapeterfreund.com|
If you are at all familiar with the Scarlet Pimpernel or the French Revolution you might realize that Albion (an archaic name for Great Britain) and Galatea are meant to stand in for England and France. However, for the most part, the similarities to real places and real history end there. Diana Peterfreund has created her own rich and complex political history as background for these stories. If you've read For Darkness Shows the Stars, you might remember that genetic engineering created a generation of mentally impaired "Reduced" in that story. In Across a Star-Swept Sea, that "reduction" has led to revolution, as the aristocratic class in Galatea is being targeted -- and forcibly reduced -- by revolutionaries who resent their poor treatment by their aristocratic masters.
Enter the Wild Poppy. This daring and mysterious figure is smuggling aristocrats out of Galatea, infuriating that country's revolutionaries. As the book's blurb indicates, the Wild Poppy is none other than frivolous socialite Persis Blake. (In The Scarlet Pimpernel, the hero is mild mannered aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney.) Like her Scarlet Pimpernel namesake, Persis has cultivated a harmless-seeming persona in order to protect her secret identity.
I thought that The Scarlet Pimpernel offered up a fantastic premise, but suffered from overblown writing, superficial characterization, and serious cultural and ethnic stereotyping. (See Bookworm 1858's post on our joint reading of Scarlet Pimpernel over the summer.) In contrast, Across a Star-Swept Sea features well-developed characters and a plot that really delves into all the nuances of the story's political situation. Just as in the French Revolution, the Galatean lower classes are rising up against their privileged oppressors, but the revolutionaries' tactics are so cruel and extreme that it is hard to argue that their means justify the ends. As one character argues:
Bad things happen in this world, and we are judged on how we respond. Do we take part in evil, or do we fight against it with all we have?
To me, the strongest parts of Across a Star-Swept Sea were these moments when characters had to take moral stands, to come to terms with their historical or personal culpability in a situation and figure out what they could -- and should -- do. There is also a charming romance. In The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy is married to the beautiful but childish Marguerite. In Across a Star-Swept Sea, Persis is convinced by her best friend, Princess Isla of Albion, to engage in a fauxmance with attractive Galatean medic Justen Helo. Of course the two fall in love, but not before they have to sort out some real issues. Persis is hiding a family secret, while Justen feels deeply guilty about something in his own past. And, of course, Justen, fooled by Persis' whole airhead act, thinks that his pretend girlfriend is pretty to look at but not very bright.
I loved the way that Across a Star-Swept Sea wove real moral dilemmas and problems with lighter interludes-- royal spectacles and moments of beauty. There's a yacht party, there's a luau, there's a romantic liaison in a secluded cove, some zip-lining, even a little impromptu poetry slam. The story is filled with fun, imaginative worldbuilding details, from Persis' pet sea mink to the "flutter notes" that the Albians use to communicate. And, for fans like me of For Darkness Shows the Stars, there's a surprise appearance from some favorite characters. Yes, I wish the ending had been extended a bit, but overall I'm a big fan of both of these books and highly recommend them.
If you are curious about these books' story world and the real life places that inspired it, you can read more and see photos on this post from the author's blog.
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