Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Release Date: October 15, 2013
Source: Edelweiss via publisher
Published by: Balzer + Bray

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund - Goodreads | The Book Depository

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.

In this thrilling adventure inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, Diana Peterfreund creates an exquisitely rendered world where nothing is as it seems and two teens with very different pasts fight for a future only they dare to imagine.

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Persis, the protagonist - To have a heroine who can maintain a guise as easily as she does, well, Persis is definitely smart: able to fool two islands worth of people with regards to her identity. As Persis Blake, she's a beautiful, vapid yet charming lady of her class; as the Wild Poppy, she's daring, clever, and willing to do what no one else will for the sake of justice. Needless to say, Persis makes for an admirable heroine who many will love and whose depths are interesting to explore. The only thing that prevented me from fully bonding to Persis was that she seemed to do everything a bit too well, and as I discuss later, this was a part of my personal preferences and expectations going into the novel.
2. (+) World-building - An excellent blend of science fiction and science fantasy. One of my favorite parts of this novel was seeing how the islands of Albion and Galatea handled the Reduction so differently from the Luddites and Posts in For Darkness Shows the Stars. Here we have regs and aristos instead of Posts and Luddites; here we again have class tension but of a different variety. Again we see how genetic manipulations can go right and wrong. What's different here is that Peterfruend also had to develop distinct cultures for Albion and Galatea in addition to the historical roots established in For Darkness Shows the Stars. This leads to a wide variety of cool technology like flutter notes and a world that vaguely feels like a futuristic, high-tech Hawaii but with elements from FDStS as well. I also really love that in Ms. Peterfreund's science fiction novels, it's not that ALL science is bad, which a lot of YA sci fi novels seem to imply. Rather it's a matter of who is in charge of the science, and that's the same with any power/knowledge struggle.
3. (+) Romance - Do you like stories where the hero and heroine both must pretend that they are something else, someone else? Do you like when secrets are used to create romantic tension and you're just waiting for the hero and heroine to trust each other? How about when the couple must pretend to be in love for political reasons? How about hate-turned-love stories? That is the romance of Across a Star-Swept Sea. Naturally Justen and Persis actually have great chemistry despite their initial dislike and grow to like each other before the secrets come out. However, it was a little sad in the beginning because Justen just writes Persis off (natural for the story, I know), but gah the love interest who also falls prey to the sexism. He grows by the end of the story and the sexism is addressed somewhat, but as I will say later in this review, I wanted to see more of that in the ending.
4. (+) Character cast - You know how I said I love Victorian age novels because the heroines are generally fierce despite their circumstances? Diana Peterfreund tapped into that love as each of the secondary female characters struggle with their patriarchal societies. You have Isla, Persis's best friend and honorary queen of Albion, struggling to maintain her power while the old men in her government will do anything to prevent just that. You have Andrine, one of the regs (lower-class) who helps Persis with her tasks and tries to do what she can in the Albion society where women don't have high status. Then you have the women of Galatea who are able to maintain powerful positions yet aren't granted the same level of respect. Of course there are other male and other secondary characters as well but the female ones really stole the show for me.
5. (+/-) Plot - I was talking with my name twin about this novel, and she pointed out a plot thread that didn't get resolved despite the fact that there is no sequel. Cameos are fun, but it's true: the reason for them and their presence wasn't fully explained. This didn't bother me while reading, but it's worthwhile to note. I also wanted a bit more at the end; it seemed a tad rushed after the climactic scene. Other than that, this book is plotted fantastically to work in the tensions between the two islands and different classes as well as between Justen and Persis.
6. (+/-) Personal Preference - This is definitely me and me alone, but I wanted to explain more about my feelings on this book. I haven't read The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I was coming into this with my own expectations. When I saw that the book was about a spy, a revolutionary, I thought that it would be grittier, harsher than it was. There are dangerous moments and attitudes  -- like the Galatean royal attitude towards the Reduced -- but the book, in general, seemed more focused on the romance than the spy techniques. It's lighter in tone than its predecessor as well, which I wasn't expecting either.
7. (+) Standalone - One thing that I appreciated about this novel was its status as a standalone/companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars. I didn't need to reread For Darkness Shows the Stars to understand what had happened or the details of the world. Although your experience of the world would probably be enhanced by reading the first book, it is not necessary. I particularly liked the way this book furthered my understanding of Reduction and still had its own message made for discussion yet was another original spin on a romantic retelling.
8. (+) Writing - Have you read For Darkness Shows the Stars? Diana Peterfreud does a wonderful job building romantic tension and establishing a sense of wonder as the two realize that they're good for each other. First a star cave, now star water. I want something for myself!
9. (+) Pacing - You know that the pacing is done well when there's enough tension for you to start thinking, "Just kiss already! Tell him who you are! Justen, look at her! Aah--" The romance and political tension work well in concert to driving you towards the climax with anticipation. Only thing I'd complain about is what I said earlier: that I wanted a bit more of an ending.
10. (+/-) The Cover - This is definitely a pretty cover. They got Persis's hair color right too. And the stars and the water and the title font? I like them, but I am also starting to turn anti girl-in-dress for covers. Though I also don't know how else they would have portrayed the world.

Strong (female) characters and delicious romantic tension abound in a futuristic blend of science and fantasy that's sure to please Peterfreund's fans and garner her more.

Other Reviews:

-Lauren at Love Is Not a Triangle: "...delightful overall."
-4 stars from Christina at A Reader of Fictions: "Across a Star-Swept Sea is more light-hearted and romantic than its predecessor, with the same excellent writing and intriguing world building."
-4 stars from Gillian at Writer of Wrongs: "A romantic, fun, original sci-fi twist on a classic that I loved right up until the very end."
-3 stars from Isamlq on Goodreads: "...another win..."
-2 stars from Fiona on Goodreads: "While I quite liked For Darkness Shows the Stars, I found this one unreadably clunky. "

Note: I tried to find more negative reviews (for a broader spectrum), but there simply aren't very many. From what I can tell, this one is widely liked across the blogosphere.

Also, if you are interested, apparently there is a (no longer free) prequel, The First Star to Fall. According to the author: "If you want to know who Persis was before she became the infamous Wild Poppy, then this is the story for you. If you want luaus, fancy frocks, and just a wee bit of regicide, then this is definitely the book for you."


  1. Jenny @ Supernatural SnarkOctober 1, 2013 at 7:21 AM

    I just finished this one and LOVED it Christina! I agree on Persis, I adored her and it was just too much fun for me to see her play the clueless rich girl and fool Justen so easily all the while waiting with breath held for the moment he finally realizes his mistake. I would have liked a bit more to have happened between them in the end in that regard since Justen wrote her off quickly and easily as everyone else in Albion did, but all in all I enjoyed the two of them.

    And a big yes to more explanation for Kai and Elliott's presence, but like you, it didn't really bother me while I was reading. I hope we get more of these retellings set in this world, I've loved every second of them!

  2. I can't wait to read this one and it's good to know that I don't have to read the first one in order to enjoy it. I read it but I barely remember it now (just the basic plot). Love your description of the romance, I'm all over that, the world-building and the protagonist and yay, another non-contemporary stand-alone. Great review! ~Pam

  3. I just started this one! So needless to say, I am thrilled that you loved this one so much. For Darkness Shows the Stars was my first book by Diana Peterfreund, but I became an instant fan of hers. HER WRITING! And I recall her world building and characterization were really great in For Darkness, so I'm happy to see she did a fantastic job here, as well. I really love how you mention that like our favourite Victorian age heroines, Diana's heroines are similarly fierce despite not being in optimal situations to do so.

    Now I feel conflicted about the romance. My answer is definitely a resounding YES to all your questions about what the romance was like. But I generally prefer the romance to take a back seat to the action. Especially when there is spying involved! How cool?! That should definitely be the focus, I agree. Then again, the romance was a major part of For Darkness, and I really loved that one. We'll see.

    Anyways, fantastic review as always!!

  4. OMG I want this book! I looooved For Darkness Shows the Stars, and this one sounds like it's JUST AS AMAZING. Also, dat cover <3

    WORLDBUILDING! A futuristic, high tech Hawaii? lol that sounds so awesome. I feel like the world building was done pretty well in FDStS so it's good that it's done similarly well in this book too!

    Dang it, another unsatisfying ending?! I can't 100% remember, but I'm pretty sure the Kai and Elliot romance wasn't completely resolved at the end of FDStS. I seem to recall there was the hint that all would be well, but we didn't actually get to see it? Is that kind of how it is in Across a Star-Swept Sea as well?

  5. Hannah @ Fullybooked.fancyfreeOctober 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM

    Fantastic review! Looking forward to reading this one...as my TBR pile grows ever-larger!

  6. I absolutely love the cover! I'm adding this book to my to-read list. Hoping to read this one soon.

  7. I do love that cover, but I am not crazy about the font.

    I have been eyeing this book - I think I might pick it up one day, but my TBR pile is just too big to conciser picking this up.

    I love your review format!

  8. I loved For Darkness Shows the Stars and I think I'm going to love Across a Star-Swept Sea too! Persis sounds really great... Fooling two islands about her identity? Smart? Has depth? I'm loving her already. I am a little afraid of her doing everything too well, though. Those kinds of characters make me feel sort of dumb, lol.

    "Futuristic, high-tech Hawaii" Oh my God, YES! I think it's great that the worldbuilding in this book was able to stay true to FDStS's world but also be unique in its own way. And I am so glad that the romance was written well! I'm always a little wary of romance in YA books, for some reason.

    The character cast sounds wonderful, and I love a good band of awesome female characters :) I don't think I will mind that the plot is lighter and not as harsh as it could have been. I'm looking forward to a calm and soothing story-- which is what I got from FDStS!

    Great review, Christina!

  9. I love how her playing the clueless rich girl also fit in with the other female characters struggling against expectations as well. Plus waiting on Justen to realize his mistake.

    Me too! But I also heard that there won't be anything else set in this world :(. We'll just have to hope for Peterfreund to write something else equally as awesome.

  10. Woot! I hope you enjoy :). Another reviewer suggested reading the first one before getting into this one, but you already have, so I bet reading about the world-building will work the same way for you as it did for me (since I too remembered very little of For Darkness). You really don't get a lot of non-contemporary standalones...

  11. Ooh, I'd love to discuss this one with you - am definitely looking forward to reading your review at the very least. YESSS her writing! Me too on that being my first book of hers. Yes, if you liked the world and characterization in For Darkness, I think you'll like them again in this one :D.

    Oooh, this might be similar to your experience with the Burning Sky. It's a bit less than in that one, but the romance does get more focus ... but if you liked it in For Darkness? So, I hope you like it, and am looking forward to seeing how you take it.

  12. Thanks! I hope you enjoy the book!

  13. Woot! The cover is really pretty and I hope you get to read it soon too!

  14. Yes, right??? Futuristic, high tech Hawaii all the way plus the expert world building in For Darkness :). I hope you enjoy. And the cover IS gorgeous. I love water-esque dresses...

    Yes, it was like the romance in For Darkness. Kai and Elliot didn't end up kissing at the end, though yes there was a hint that all goes well. You get some action in this one, but it's a similar wanting-more feeling for Across a Star-Swept Sea (at least for me).

  15. Really?? I actually like the font because it's kind of fairy tale esque and so different from what you'd normally see on a YA sci-fi.

    Hmm, well, maybe you could pick it up when your TBR pile is not as long? Either way, thanks for stopping by! :)

  16. It might have just been me about her doing everything too well! The other reviewers didn't seem to have a problem with that - they just mentioned what you said and loved her as a heroine :).

    Well romance in YA books can be either very hit or miss. You've got insta-love circumstances, or the romantic interest being a terrible RI, or the romance getting too much focus, etc. etc.

    Excellent! I hope you enjoy this one and get the same calm and soothing feeling you're expecting :).

  17. Happy that you liked this one overall. I read Scarlet Pimpernel this summer and I;m excited to compare the two!

  18. I'll be interested to read what you think since you've read SP. I'm curious how this one will compare with that aspect of the retelling in mind. I hope you enjoy it!

  19. Yay! This book sounds FANTASTIC. I was hoping so, but definitely know after your review now. Persis sounds wonderful as well as this whole world (although I knew that since I loved her other book) and the tension? Hallelujah, I'm so glad it was executed well. Great review!

  20. Glad you liked it. I like strong willed heroines. I thought this was a sequel..? Is it a standalone? I love the cover and it's been on my TBR for awhile now... :)

  21. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one!! I've been looking forward to it for so very long. Retellings are one of my favorite things to read.

  22. Good to know it's kind of a standalone

  23. It's funny. This is the review I was reading when I went to school yesterday. Before French, I had never heard of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, but guess what we're now watching in class?


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