Look at this cover. Pretty girl in a pretty dress on a field of stars. A review snipped that says it's a "beautiful, epic love story." The promise of a society that dwells in faux-historical times but with a science fiction edge. Can you see what I was looking for here? I was looking for another These Broken Stars. I didn't find it, and while I think this book had some strong points, overall I was very disappointed.
Disappointments first, so I can finish up with strong points and end on a positive note, okay? First off, this is not a "beautiful, epic love story" like that quote says. It hardly qualifies as a love story at all. Supposedly, this book is based on Jane Austen's Persuasion, and while I can see the bones there based on Persuasion's description (I haven't read it) I think that Peterfreund could have adapted this so much better than she actually did. Let me put forth my main problem with showing this book off as a Jane Austen/sci-fi love story: it's not a love story, or at least not one involving two worthy parties. Kai is a complete ass for like 90% of the book, and all his sweet-talking and letter-writing in the end can't make up for how utterly abominably he treated Elliot throughout. It seems like, in Persuasion, the heroine ditches the hero because her sister convinces her that he's not good enough for her to marry. I can see someone being a bastard about that latter. It's a pretty lame reason to call off an engagement. But to be so utterly vicious in every way toward a former friend, whom you were never actually romantically involved with, even if the possibility was there, when she refused to run away with you into stars-only-know what sort of trouble when the two of you were fourteen, and instead decided to stay home, do her duty and help all of the people who, in one way or another, depended on her? And to turn everyone you meet against her, too? No. Absolutely inexcusable. I spent this entire book just praying that Elliot would realize how much better off she would be if without Kai, and get over him and move on, and I am so disappointed that Kai was actually presented as a realistic love interest here. Not that there's much of a love story at all, because like I mentioned, the two were never actually romantically involved. It was suggested that they might have been, if things had gone differently, but since things didn't go differently, they weren't. And so it makes the constant angst and the sudden lovey-doveyness of the end just seem very out of place.
On more minor notes, the early worldbuilding in this drove me crazy, because exactly what all of these strange terms mean and how they came about is not made clear for quite some time, and it left me floundering. Also, I could not for the life of me figure out where the heck this story was supposed to take place on our own world, geographically, and it drove me crazy. Does anyone know where these mysterious two islands that survived the apocalypse are? Anybody? Bueller?
I think that the apocalypse scenario itself was strong, and that the moral implications of the characters' actions in relation to it, which are brought up time and time again, could very easily be the topic of an intense ethical debate all on their own. What really is right in this scenario? (Hint: it's not being emotionally abusive to someone you considered your best friend. Yes, I am bitter over this.) And I liked Elliot herself, and her grandfather, and the whole mystique of the Boatwright name and legacy, and the promise of what might be beyond the shores of the two islands. Honestly, I think this world, and Elliot, had enormous potential in general, and that Peterfreund just went and absolutely slaughtered it with Kai. He could have been changed in so many minor ways to make him palatable, and a hero worth rooting for, but honestly he really ruined the entire book for me. I'm willing to put up with a lot of bastardly behavior from a hero if the romance is good and there's at least some logic, no matter how misplaced it is, behind his actions, but that was not the case here. No delicious romance. Not a single kiss! If you're going to write a romance about two eighteen-year-olds, they are allowed to at least kiss at some point, especially after they throw off all the societal restraints confining them in every aspect of life. One would think any taboos against kissing would go out right with them. And certainly no logic. Another possible way this could have been remedied: by having some chapters with Kai as a point-of-view character, instead of Elliot, so that we could see what was actually going on in his head. This might have made misunderstandings more apparent and Kai more tolerable in general. But that didn't happen, and so we only have Elliot's POV, and Kai was a total jerk to her all along the way. There is no redemption here for this.
I plan on reading Across a Star-Swept Sea, Peterfreund's other book in this duology, because I do think there's so much potential here, but I sincerely hope that it offers a better hero, and hopefully more of a love story, than this book did.
2 stars out of 5.