Since I loved Austen when Austen wasn’t cool, I have been heartened by the Jane Austen mania of the past few years. Although we might be on the waning side of that trend, two Young Adult titles came out this summer that are definitely worth your time, whether you are a teen or an adult. They are very different from one another, yet both excellent reads in their own way.
Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl, is a delightfully clever mash-up of Austen, Cinderella, and Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. Althea is sweet, smart, and eminently practical. Since her father died and left them penniless, she’s lived with her passive mother and her two spoiled, gold-digger stepsisters in a castle her father built right smack on the edge of a cliff. Since gentlewomen in her day were not able to earn money, it is up to Althea to make a good marriage in order to save the family fortune. She’s already messed it up once by responding to her first suitor’s offer of marriage and compliment to her beauty with an acceptance and compliment to his wealth. Seems fair to me, but the young man does not see it that way, and Althea realizes that perhaps honesty is not always the best policy.
Time is ticking. Althea is seventeen years old, and she can’t afford to be an old maid, so she sets her sights on Lord Boring. If only he didn’t show up with his boorish friend, Mr. Fredericks, all the time! You can see what’s coming here. How long will it take until Althea is able to do more for her family and servants than just re-use the same tea leaves four times?
If Austen take-offs have been done before, surely post-apocalyptic stories must be done to death! Not when the author is Diana Peterfreund, who offers us something very new and beautiful in For Darkness Shows the Stars. In this science-fiction retelling of Persuasion, we find another young woman with the future of an entire estate resting on her shoulders.
When Eliot North, the heroine, and Kai were children, they were great friends, despite the rigid class restrictions in society since the crash of civilization caused by genetic engineering. Eliot and her family belong to the Luddite ruling class, since they did not participate in science at all. Kai and the other servants on the estate are part of the Reduction, though, and remain in subjection to the Luddites. The upper class believes that the mental incapacity and dependence of the Reduced is God’s judgment for their earlier dabbling in science. Lately, though, some of the Reduced have had children who show intelligence and are beginning to rise up against their masters. When Kai’s father dies and he sees that his life will never change under Eliot’s father, he runs away to join the Cloud Fleet, where he can use his mechanical skills and make his way freely in life.
Four years later, Eliot is exhausted from desperately trying to keep her family and servants fed. She had been secretly trying to breed a new type of grain that would produce a better crop, but when her father finds out, he destroys the field and builds a racetrack on it instead. Eliot cannot complain, since she knows that her experiments were illegal. Her father and sister’s spendthrift habits have driven them to the brink of bankruptcy, so when the admiral of the Cloud Fleet asks to rent part of the estate in which to build a new boat, she agrees, even though the Luddites disapprove of the Cloud Fleet’s continued use of technology. Eliot knows that they must have the rent money to survive another year. When the fleet arrives, one of the officers, Captain Malakai Wentworth, looks very familiar, but shows no signs of recognizing her.
For Darkness Shows the Stars is a richly imagined work of science fiction and romance that succeeds perfectly. It is complex and deeply engaging, and Peterfreund takes no shortcuts, working each thread of the plot to a satisfying conclusion. Although it is a YA book, the characters are not teenagers as we think of them, but young adults with serious responsibilities and tough decisions to make. There are certainly discussion points here in this fictional world’s pitting science and religion against one another, as if they were mutually exclusive. It is fiction, yes, but you may not want your teen to read this excellent story without drawing out the underlying assumptions.
So, curl up in your favorite chair and spend some time with these two absorbing stories. It’s been a great summer for new books.