Book Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Having accidentally read this book’s companion novel first, I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity and uniqueness of the plot and world-building in For Darkness Shows the Stars.

4/5 stars

cover for darkness shows the stars

Amazon description

In the dystopian future of For Darkness Shows the Stars, a genetic experiment has devastated humanity. In the aftermath, a new class system placed anti-technology Luddites in absolute power over vast estates—and any survivors living there.

Elliot North is a dutiful Luddite and a dutiful daughter who runs her father’s estate. When the boy she loved, Kai, a servant, asked her to run away with him four years ago, she refused, although it broke her heart.

Now Kai is back. And while Elliot longs for a second chance with her first love, she knows it could mean betraying everything she’s been raised to believe is right.

For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking YA romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

My Review

For all that this book says that it is dystopian, in all honestly it does not belong in that genre–and I am sooo glad. The setting feels fresh and unique, a wonderful break from the mold of dystopias today.

On that note, I loved the world-building Peterfreund employed. It was simple and believeable, an interesting critique of the 21st century’s obsession with genetic modification without sounding preachy. The Luddite’s fear and hatred of technology made sense, as well as their juxtaposed willingness to turn a blind eye to new technology if it presented itself. I like that so much of this book’s setting focused on human nature and its interaction with technology rather than complex specifics of the new world.

Elliot was a great protagonist. Her character was relatable and loveable; I understood why she didn’t leave with Kai four years ago. Her sense of duty was believable, and her role as a leader was subtle but complex. I liked her interactions with technology and her discomfort with the social status quo of her estate. Her interactions with her family were tense, presenting the right conflicts to drive her character into desperation. She was appropriately heart-broken over losing Kai without it dominating her character. I loved that we got to see how having and then losing Kai had influenced her growth in the four years of his absence.

Kai comes back as a captain the infamous Cloud Fleet, a set of Post (lower class citizens who are treated like serfs on estates like Elliots) explorers who want to use the shipyard in Elliot’s family’s estate to build their next vessel. The tension between the two of them was instant and palpable–I was sucked in immediately. The romance drove the plot but didn’t dominate it; Elliot’s interactions with the other members of the Fleet and the various conflicts they presented her were also important. However, the reason I kept reading the book was the romance between Kai and Elliot–or the lack thereof. It was painful and literally drove me to tears at times. The forces keeping them apart were more than the stereotypical ones I’ve read in other books. Though the romantic tension could have made me hate the book, Peterfreund managed to balance enough conflicting forces and motivations for me love it instead.

We get periodic glimpses into Kai and Elliot’s past with a series of letters they wrote each other as they grew up. This simple story telling technique worked so well to convey their relationship. I understood that they were honestly in love, and that it had been developing for years before Kai left.

Honestly, the letters were the biggest source of insight into Kai’s character. In the present, I felt like his characterization was reliant on Elliot’s memories and explanations. Still, in the end, I felt like I knew and liked the guy.

None of the characterization was exceedingly complex. None of the side characters felt flat, but they weren’t exactly deep either. I would have liked to get to know the others on a more personal level, instead of just through Elliot’s eyes.

Probably my biggest complaint with this book (the reason it didn’t earn 5/5 stars), is the ending. It felt too easy, too sudden, after the strife and conflict of the 400 pages before. Of course it made me happy (though I kind of knew it would happen because I’ve already read Across a Star Swept Sea) but I wanted more from it. Peterfreund set me up for a super dramatic reveal of emotion that I felt like I never got.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a fresh take on a dystopian world and a dose of well-written romantic tension.

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