1. (+) Persis, the protagonist - To have a heroine who can maintain a guise as easily as she does, well, Persis is definitely smart: able to fool two islands worth of people with regards to her identity. As Persis Blake, she's a beautiful, vapid yet charming lady of her class; as the Wild Poppy, she's daring, clever, and willing to do what no one else will for the sake of justice. Needless to say, Persis makes for an admirable heroine who many will love and whose depths are interesting to explore. The only thing that prevented me from fully bonding to Persis was that she seemed to do everything a bit too well, and as I discuss later, this was a part of my personal preferences and expectations going into the novel.
2. (+) World-building - An excellent blend of science fiction and science fantasy. One of my favorite parts of this novel was seeing how the islands of Albion and Galatea handled the Reduction so differently from the Luddites and Posts in For Darkness Shows the Stars. Here we have regs and aristos instead of Posts and Luddites; here we again have class tension but of a different variety. Again we see how genetic manipulations can go right and wrong. What's different here is that Peterfruend also had to develop distinct cultures for Albion and Galatea in addition to the historical roots established in For Darkness Shows the Stars. This leads to a wide variety of cool technology like flutter notes and a world that vaguely feels like a futuristic, high-tech Hawaii but with elements from FDStS as well. I also really love that in Ms. Peterfreund's science fiction novels, it's not that ALL science is bad, which a lot of YA sci fi novels seem to imply. Rather it's a matter of who is in charge of the science, and that's the same with any power/knowledge struggle.
3. (+) Romance - Do you like stories where the hero and heroine both must pretend that they are something else, someone else? Do you like when secrets are used to create romantic tension and you're just waiting for the hero and heroine to trust each other? How about when the couple must pretend to be in love for political reasons? How about hate-turned-love stories? That is the romance of Across a Star-Swept Sea. Naturally Justen and Persis actually have great chemistry despite their initial dislike and grow to like each other before the secrets come out. However, it was a little sad in the beginning because Justen just writes Persis off (natural for the story, I know), but gah the love interest who also falls prey to the sexism. He grows by the end of the story and the sexism is addressed somewhat, but as I will say later in this review, I wanted to see more of that in the ending.
4. (+) Character cast
- You know how I said I love Victorian age novels because the heroines are generally fierce despite their circumstances
? Diana Peterfreund tapped into that love as each of the secondary female characters struggle with their patriarchal societies. You have Isla, Persis's best friend and honorary queen of Albion, struggling to maintain her power while the old men in her government will do anything to prevent just that. You have Andrine, one of the regs (lower-class) who helps Persis with her tasks and tries to do what she can in the Albion society where women don't have high status. Then you have the women of Galatea who are able to maintain powerful positions yet aren't granted the same level of respect. Of course there are other male and other secondary characters as well but the female ones really stole the show for me.
5. (+/-) Plot
- I was talking with my name twin about this novel
, and she pointed out a plot thread that didn't get resolved despite the fact that there is no sequel. Cameos are fun, but it's true: the reason for them and their presence wasn't fully explained. This didn't bother me while reading, but it's worthwhile to note. I also wanted a bit more at the end; it seemed a tad rushed after the climactic scene. Other than that, this book is plotted fantastically to work in the tensions between the two islands and different classes as well as between Justen and Persis.
6. (+/-) Personal Preference - This is definitely me and me alone, but I wanted to explain more about my feelings on this book. I haven't read The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I was coming into this with my own expectations. When I saw that the book was about a spy, a revolutionary, I thought that it would be grittier, harsher than it was. There are dangerous moments and attitudes -- like the Galatean royal attitude towards the Reduced -- but the book, in general, seemed more focused on the romance than the spy techniques. It's lighter in tone than its predecessor as well, which I wasn't expecting either.
7. (+) Standalone - One thing that I appreciated about this novel was its status as a standalone/companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars. I didn't need to reread For Darkness Shows the Stars to understand what had happened or the details of the world. Although your experience of the world would probably be enhanced by reading the first book, it is not necessary. I particularly liked the way this book furthered my understanding of Reduction and still had its own message made for discussion yet was another original spin on a romantic retelling.
8. (+) Writing - Have you read For Darkness Shows the Stars? Diana Peterfreud does a wonderful job building romantic tension and establishing a sense of wonder as the two realize that they're good for each other. First a star cave, now star water. I want something for myself!
9. (+) Pacing - You know that the pacing is done well when there's enough tension for you to start thinking, "Just kiss already! Tell him who you are! Justen, look at her! Aah--" The romance and political tension work well in concert to driving you towards the climax with anticipation. Only thing I'd complain about is what I said earlier: that I wanted a bit more of an ending.
10. (+/-) The Cover - This is definitely a pretty cover. They got Persis's hair color right too. And the stars and the water and the title font? I like them, but I am also starting to turn anti girl-in-dress for covers. Though I also don't know how else they would have portrayed the world.
Strong (female) characters and delicious romantic tension abound in a futuristic blend of science and fantasy that's sure to please Peterfreund's fans and garner her more.
-4 stars from Christina at A Reader of Fictions
: "Across a Star-Swept Sea is more light-hearted and romantic than its predecessor, with the same excellent writing and intriguing world building."
-4 stars from Gillian at Writer of Wrongs
: "A romantic, fun, original sci-fi twist on a classic that I loved right up until the very end."
-2 stars from Fiona on Goodreads
: "While I quite liked For Darkness Shows the Stars, I found this one unreadably clunky. "
Note: I tried to find more negative reviews (for a broader spectrum), but there simply aren't very many. From what I can tell, this one is widely liked across the blogosphere.
Also, if you are interested, apparently there is a free prequel, The First Star to Fall. According to the author: "If you want to know who Persis was before she became the infamous Wild Poppy, then this is the story for you. If you want luaus, fancy frocks, and just a wee bit of regicide, then this is definitely the book for you.