Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading … Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Just Finished Reading … Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Across a Star-Swept Sea
by Diana Peterfreund
Published by Balzer + Bray
on October 15, 2013

Source: e-ARC requested from the publisher

Connect with the author: website | Twitter.

Listen to the book's playlist here.

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.

Interested in reading this? Great, because it just so happens that Bookworm 1858 is giving it away!  Enter by clicking here!

24 comments:

  1. This sounds perfect! Wild Poppy is such an awesome spy name. I think this may be my next read.

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  2. I have to read this book soon! I love the first book and I'm hoping that this book I will enjoy as well.

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    1. If you loved the first book, I definitely think you'll like this one!

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  3. I have an ARC of this and really need to read it ... I've been hesitant though since it's a companion to the first novel and I was hoping it would be a continuation. But I have faith in Diana Peterfreund!

    Great review, Jen! :)

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    1. In a way it continues the story. Just try it -- I think you'll love it!

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  4. Great review! I really loved how those lighter moments were mixed in with such heavier ones and, like you said, moral decisions. I think that's what made this work for me - that balance so that it wasn't all desperate plotting and violence or all light. Of course I loved the characters, especially Persis. She is amazing! I loved the plot. She has to write more books in this series because the book did feel a little open to me. Don't you think?

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  5. I am so excited to read AASSS! I loved FDSTS to the point that it rekindled my love of reading after a huge slump. I can't wait to dive back into that world and your review has got me even more excited for it. Thanks for the review :)

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  6. I've not read The Scarlet Pimpernel, and wondered how this book compared, so it was interesting to read your takes on it. I really loved Across A Star-Swept Sea, however, and I'm happy to see that Peterfreund really made the story her own. I agree that this book does well at balancing more serious moral debates with light, fashion forward moments. Also, I've not heard the term fauxmance before, but I'm totally going to be adding it to my vocabulary whenever I can.

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    1. Scarlet Pimpernel has an amazing premise, but the execution felt really dated to me. She definitely just uses the story as a jumping off point.
      Heh -- I hope I didn't make up the term "fauxmance." I don't think so…..

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  7. Yay-finally have a chance to comment! I love your review-it has me so psyched to check this one out even though FDSTS was a bit of a miss after the divine Persuasion. I think the fact that I don't love the characters of TSP will enable me to attach to these better.

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    1. I liked both FDSTS and AASSS but preferred this one -- Persuasion is one of my least favorite Jane Austen books.

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  8. HAven't read anything by this author, although I mean to in the near future. Thanks for your review!

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  9. I haven't read the Scarlet Pimpernel, but I adored this. "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 to do." <---YES! I completely agree with this. I adored the cameos too. Great review!

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    1. I was happy that the moral aspects were delved into much more deeply than they were in Scarlet Pimpernel, which was a little … campy.

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  10. I've never read the classic this was based on so I have no idea how Peterfreund sticks close to the story. I'm glad this was somewhat better in some aspects. :)

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  11. I think I really want to read this one. Do I need to read FDStS first? I want to read that one, too, but I want to read Across A Star Swept Sea even more.

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  12. Ohhh. I actually LOVE The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I'm very curious about this book although I've not yet read the first one, or in fact, any books by this author. Strong characterizations and complicated moral dilemmas are exactly what I"d want from a book like this, so thank you so much for the review!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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  13. Across a Star-Swept Sea sounds wonderful. I must admit to remembering vaguely (sorry) reading The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I'm really curious about Wild Poppy taking the place of Sir Percy. I love the switch, and that we have a YA heroine playing the part of the spoiled aristocratic. Do you recommend reading For Darkness Shows the Stars first?
    Wonderful review Jen!

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  14. So love your review, Jen! I really loved her first book and very happy that she continues the amazing with this one. Yay for great characterizations and moral dilemmas and everything in between. I'll be wary of the short ending though :)

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  15. Oh, I didn't know there was a map! That's awesome! I really, REALLY hope you're right and there's at least one more book in this series. But I'd love it if there were ten more. :) Diana Peterfreund is an auto-buy for me from now on.

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