Author: Diana Peterfreund
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.
Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.
But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret—one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.
So, this is a post-apocalyptic Jane Austen that somehow retains its Jane Austen-ness. Elliot (our new Anne) is still the daughter of a wealthy noble. Kai (our new Wentworth) is still lower class and determined to make his fortune and is still a sailor by profession. Peterfreund manages to carefully handle the details so as to stay true to the original work while also being different. Some of the new characters serve to play the roles of more than one of the old ones, and a few that are unnecessary for the retelling are cut. This story takes some different twists and turns than Persuasion, but the big stuff is there: the letter, the Charming Young Man, the social and class issues that are always at play in Austen's work. And yet it manages to add even more to it - stuff like bioethics, which is hard to imagine working with an Austen retelling, but it does.
Elliot and Kai are similar to Anne and Wentworth, but we get to see more of their personalities and get into their heads a little more - this is particularly true of Kai. His feelings as the one who was rejected are explored with more depth. Each has clear motives for their behavior and feelings. I love them both. But it isn't just Elliot and Kai that I found myself appreciating. I absolutely adore Ro, their childhood friend. All of the characters get a chance to show a bit of themselves to the reader and to Elliot, increasing their complexity as individuals rather than allowing them to lounge about in the background.
The setting is that of a world that has been torn apart by hubris and genetic experimentation, separating people into factions. The Luddites are desperate to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, while the Posts seek change. This setup allows for commentary on societal and class distinctions to take up a presence within the novel. I particularly like this, because I do not think that you can successfully retell an Austen novel without including it. The plot is steady going, and is driven by the conflict between Elliot and Kai as well as the conflicts between their two classes. Elliot deals with a lot of internal struggles as well, due to her Luddite moralities conflicting with her sympathies for the Posts and some of their ideals. And the ending is perfect.
If you love Persuasion and have been on the fence about this one, grab it. I think that you'll find it does a magnificent job of retelling without copying. And even if you haven't read any Austen at all, you can still enjoy the PA setting and the conflict and characters. I so recommend this book. One of the best retellings I've read.