A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

on April 4, 2014

What tickled me: Only thing better than a Scarlet Pimpernel hero? A Scarlet Pimpernel heroine!

What ticked me off: This future world includes mentions of some classic books — even though The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t one of them, that just got a little too meta for me, somehow.

Who might like it: Readers who enjoy “reimaginings” of classics.

Across a Star-Swept Sea is a sequel set shortly after For Darkness Shows the Stars, yet opens in a very different post-apocalyptic world,  which was confusing at first. In this area — encompassing two kingdoms, Albion and Galatea — technology has been embraced. But flying machines have been outlawed because of the tragic past, which explains why this otherwise technologically advanced civilization believes they are the only people left on Earth.

In this version of the Scarlet Pimpernel story, Albion is essentially England, although the roots of the people appear to be Polynesian. Galatea is post-revolutionary France. Galatean Justen Helo has become disenchanted with the revolution, which is deliberately punishing “aristos” with a form of chemically-induced brain damage. He escapes to Galatea in the hopes of continuing his research on the Helo cure invented by his grandmother, which cured Earth’s survivors of the “Reduction” that left some of them genetically altered, but which had a tragic side effect for a small percentage. There he is forced to pretend to be dating the Regent’s lady-in-waiting, the brainless, fashion obsessed, society darling Persis Blake. Of course he has no idea that Persis is actually the brilliant and brave “Wild Poppy,” the Albion hero who is sneaking aristos away under the noses of the revolution.

This version sticks fairly closely to the original, though it’s more even-handed about the revolution. The setting brings a new level of chill to the already exciting story, because of the threat of Reduction. (I was initially troubled by the depiction of the “Reduced” and the attitude towards them, which I had not found offensive in For Darkness Shows the Stars — thankfully, this was actually addressed.) The weakest point is probably the romance, and admittedly, it has a huge bar set: there is just nothing to compare to Percy’s kissing the steps where Marguerite had walked, or Marguerite’s desperate journey to save him.  Although the gender-bending is very cool, in having the ultimate symbol of bold cunning be a woman, something is lost in Marguerite’s role. (For more on her character, see this interesting article in The Toast.) So I wasn’t quite as swept away as I was by the first book, though I will eagerly await the next one.

 

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