Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, book two)
By Diana Peterfreund
Published 2013 by Balzer + Bray
Out of a terrible uprising in which the ruling class is winding up brain-damaged, the Wild Poppy surfaces. The Wild Poppy is their hope for rescue. No one imagines that the famous spy is actually the secret identity of Persis Blake, an aristocrat known for her love of fashion more than an interest in politics. But with the arrival of a famous scientist from the warring island, all of Persis' hard work is in danger.
I simply adored For Darkness Shows the Stars - from the worldbuilding to the characters, I found it a very well-crafted novel. So, Peterfreund's new book was, indeed, one of my most anticipated of the year. I was so thrilled to snag an ARC at TLA - I think I actually gaped at the booth rep for a minute after she handed me the book. I started the book prior to its release date but, of course, got caught up in other things and didn't finish it before then.
For a great portion of the novel, I wondered how the two books would be connected. Yes, it was obvious they were set in the same general world, though this story takes place in a different land than the first. There were no character overlaps (they did appear later, however, for better or worse) and I kind of wondered if it mattered that the books didn't really seem to have terribly much in common. Like the first book, this is a sci-fi retelling of a classic novel; in this case, that novel is The Scarlet Pimpernel. While I can't remember definitely if I've read Persuasion or not, I know for sure that I've never read The Scarlet Pimpernel. Once again, I wondered if this would affect my experience with this book. I'll admit, about a third of the way through, I went to Wikipedia and read the entry on The Scarlet Pimpernel - I needed to know if the things I'd assumed were true.
From what I can tell, this book is exactly what it purports to be - a science fiction retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Quite obviously, the Wild Poppy is the new Scarlet Pimpernel, and most of the other threads of the plot seem unchanged. It's possible that reading this has sparked in me a small interest in reading the classic story, but we'll see if that ever comes to pass.
As I loved the worldbuilding in the first book, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this book was set within that same world. I guess I hadn't realized that when I first heard about this book, but it was quite nice. Though this book doesn't take place in the same land as the first, the history is generally the same and I enjoyed coming to this completely new story and new characters with my knowledge of the world already in place. I feel like this gave me more opportunity to focus on the story and characters.
I liked the characters well enough here, though I'm not sure I loved them as completely as I did in For Darkness Shows the Stars. I'm a big fan of the secret identity trope, so obviously Persis was my favorite. I loved how smart she was, and cunning, and unafraid of doing the right thing. I loved how personal this mission was for her, but also how global. I think Peterfreund does characters, particularly young women, very well. I didn't love Justen quite as much, but I did enjoy his backstory. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't like him - I suppose I found him a bit too stubborn and frustrating. Which leads me to my next point...
The story was, at times, incredibly frustrating. This was an instance where I felt like a lot of bad feelings could have been avoided if only the characters were better at talking to each other. Yes, I really that Persis is a spy and is quite necessarily leery of who she trusts. But, at least in my opinion, it seemed quite obvious that Justen was on her side, so her refusal to confide in him and the mess that ensued because of this was a bit irritating. I also fully realize that my issues with the story likely stem from the original story - as I said, it seems that Peterfreund didn't stray too far from the plot of The Scarlet Pimpernel in her version, so it seems likely I'd be just as frustrated reading the original as I was here.
All in all, however, I did very much enjoy this book and would be pleased to see more stories set in this world. Definitely recommended to fans of the first and to those looking for a good science fiction read.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.