Written by: Diana Peterfreund
Published by: Balzer + Bray
Release date: October 15th 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Romance, Sci-Fi, Steampunk, Young Adult
Buy: B&N, Amazon
Add on: Goodreads
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.
Across a Star-Swept Sea was an interesting book for me. I enjoyed it, and didn’t have any problems staying engaged with the writing, but something about it didn’t wow me – which really surprised me, because I was almost 100% sure I would love this book, especially after loving For Darkness Shows the Stars (despite having forgotten most of the details). I mean, look at that cover! And I love retellings – and this time (unlike FDSTS) I was familiar with the original story as well…
Well, a little familiar with the story. I used to looooove the 1982 “Scarlet Pimpernel” movie, though it’s been probably more than 10 years since I watched it. (I have no idea if I’d still like it today, but it definitely made an impression on my younger self, lol.) That’s really the only background I had on The Scarlet Pimpernel, on which this book is based.
Interestingly, I think it was my (albeit hazy) knowledge of the story which actually ended up hindering my enjoyment a little.
I appreciated the gender-swap of the main characters – Persis Blake for Percy Blakeney, and Justen Helo for Marguerite St. Just. Persis, AKA the Wild Poppy (like Percy, the Scarlet Pimpernel), is a spy trying to rescue aristos (aristocrats) and their families from
the guillotine being forcefully Reduced, and the book jumps right in on the action, with the rescue of a group of aristos from being kept Reduced and enslaved on their own property.
Persis is plucky and very smart, and really, she should have been a character I adored. However, Persis wasn’t quite as funny/eccentric as I remember Percy Blakeney being – she just came across as annoying and snobbish as her alter-ego “Persis Flake”. I was expecting more laughs. Nor was she really shown to be as smart or cunning as I expected. There’s a lot of talk about her genius-level intelligence, but I rarely felt that reflected in her actions – other than her being good at acting and fooling people into thinking she’s just a silly, flaky aristo.
And then, after the somewhat exciting beginning, things slow down significantly. Most of the middle felt very slow to me, since there was decidedly less action and not many rescue-type scenes. But I did really enjoy Peterfreund’s writing in these sections. She has a way with weaving her story and words that I really love – her descriptions are vivid and I had no trouble picturing any of the settings or clothes. (See that gorgeous book cover, btw? That isn’t just some unrelated cool-looking ocean-dress splashed (pun intended) on the cover to make it look pretty. It’s relevant to the book! So I did love that.)
However, these slower sections did allow for a lot more time from Justen’s perspective, and I adored Justen. He was my favorite character in the book, and most of the reason I was so engaged with it after things started slowing down. The scenes from his perspective always had me “awwww-ing” over his predicament. He’s so sweet and kind-hearted, and just wants to help everyone, but he’s wracked with guilt because he feels that he’s the reason the revolution has taken such a nasty turn toward the aristos. I just wanted to hug him and tell him it would all be ok, lol.
As far as Justen and Persis’s relationship, I did really like them as a couple – but I felt like, for some reason, even in the slower sections, they weren’t given enough “together-time” for me to be very excited about them, together. Maybe there wasn’t enough tension? Justen is totally adamant for much of the book that, logically, Persis “Flake” is not the girl for him – maybe this was over-emphasized in relation to the moments when he actually sees through Persis’s mask. So I did like them together, but I wasn’t really able to fall head over heels for them.
Once things start to amp up again in the last sections of the book, though, it got really good. After all the slowness, I finally felt like there was some real risk involved, and the stakes were finally high enough to make me care what was going on. The last scenes were high-tension and very well done, but I still feel like it almost wasn’t enough payoff from the slower middle.
And the ending itself was incredibly abrupt – I actually got confused when it ended, thinking there must be something else, but no. It just kind of stopped. It was probably a good place to stop, but I feel like it could have been done more delicately and with a better feeling of closure.
NOTE: for those of you who might have read the first book and forgotten a lot of the details (like me, lol) – this book shouldn’t be too confusing coming into it with little knowledge of the first. We do eventually see Kai and Elliot (and Ro and Andromeda) again, but even though I didn’t remember their story very well, I did recognize and appreciate their characters. So even if you’ve read and forgotten most of For Darkness Shows the Stars, this companion novel shouldn’t be too confusing if you decide to pick it up.
There were a lot of things to like about this book, but I feel like the aspects that mattered to me (especially after my expectations regarding Persis) fell rather short of the mark. I did really enjoy Peterfreund’s writing and gorgeously vivid descriptions, but while those kept me engaged, they just didn’t seem to be enough to really wow me when the plot slowed down.
It was an adequate retelling, and the series is still one I’ll recommend, but maybe to people who aren’t familiar with the original story – since I feel like my expectations would have been different (and maybe, thus, better fulfilled) had I not had specific things in mind before starting the book.