Book Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

I first read this book about a year ago, and remembered liking it enough. My sister read it for the first time this month and loved it, causing me to reread it. I liked the book a lot more this time, and I’m not really sure why I didn’t think more of it the first time, because it’s great.

4.5/5 stars

cover across a star swept sea

Amazon description of Across a Star-Swept Sea:

From Rampant and Ascendant author Diana Peterfreund comes this thrilling companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars, now in paperback. Across a Star-Swept Sea is a romantic science-fiction reimagining of the classic The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the islands of Galatea and Albion stand alone, a paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on Galatea, an uprising against the aristocracy has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy. On neighboring Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous teenage aristocrat Persis Blake. 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.

When Persis discovers that Justen is keeping a secret that could plunge New Pacifica into another dark age, she realizes she’s not just risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

First, I’d like to say that I didn’t realize this book was a companion novel. You can totally read it stand-alone (as I did), but now I want to go back and read For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Now, to talk about the book.

I love the world Peterfreund created. The Reduction disease is believable, and the cure’s own set of consequences is a nice addition to what have been a very simple backstory. The court of Albion is perfectly ridiculous and frivolous, the ultimate backdrop for Persis’s ditzy character. The revolution in Galatea was unique and interesting, because unlike pretty much every other book that has a revolution taking place in it against tyranny, you don’t like the revolution. This premise drew me in, breaking from the classic dystopian mold (the book is only dystopian in the loosest sense of the term). It’s possible I’ve just been studying AP European History way too much, but I found a ton of historical parallels and conflicts that made the revolution even more complex for me as a reader.

I loved the technological aspects of the world-building as well. Like the court of Albion, they are for the most part, completely ridiculous and unnecessary. Genetemps to change your appearance for a few hours, flutternotes that take nutrients out of your own body to fly away as physical manifestations of telepathic messages. However, they paint a clear picture of a civilization that has far surpassed modern day technology. Justen’s character, a medic and a scientist, also helps to ground the technology in the realm of the practical. His medical research into the Reduction balanced with the court’s gadgets to create a wide span of technologies–the way technology is in the real world.

Persis Blake is a wonderful character. She is an intensely smart girl who is the heir to her family’s estate. When her best friend Isla suddenly becomes the princess regent of Albion, Persis drops her studies to accompany her to court as her closest advisor. Persis adopts the persona of Persis Flake, a stupid airhead aristo, to disguise her nighttime exploits as the world’s most infamous spy: The Wild Poppy. The conflict between her two personas is so pronounced and creates a fascinating dynamic within herself. She’s still the brilliant girl she was when she was top of her classes, before Isla became the regent, but all of it is trapped inside of her as she has to give airheaded responses to court gossip and turn the conversation away from anything of substance.

The dynamic between Isla and Persis impressed me. The two girls have been best friends for years, and remain so. However, Isla is under immense pressure as a ruler, with almost all of her court doubting her leadership, and the stress puts a burden on their relationship. It is clear that Isla is Persis’s queen, and she uses her power throughout the novel. Persis, for her part, is keeping secrets from Isla and feels like her best friend doesn’t understand her. Still, they are steadfastly friends. I loved that Peterfreund didn’t give them a flawless relationship–it wouldn’t have made sense with both of their characters.

And Justen. Justen the grandson of Persistence Helo, the genius who created the cure for the Reduction, making him famous and revered by all. He starts the book trying to escape Galatea’s revolution, which he was closely involved with. His escape involves meeting Persis, and when he gets back to court and asks for asylum, Isla makes the two pretend to be in love as a cover for his real reason for coming to Albion: further research into his grandmother’s cure. Persis is forced to be Persis Flake around Justen, even as she marvels at his intellect and longs for substantive discussions of political affairs. Justen thinks she is an idiot and cannot believe he got saddled with her.

This book is a lesson in dramatic irony (defined as when the reader knows more than the characters). Justen and Persis’s relationship progresses as Justen realizes that Persis is stupid but also caring–but you as a reader are dying, because you know just how brilliant Persis is. There are a ton of conversations between the two about who the Wild Poppy is. Their relationship is sweet and powerful, but also freaking frustrating, because you know the reveal is coming and you want Justen to appreciate Persis!!!!

(A note: Normally, the premise of this romance would put me off a book, but Peterfreund totally pulled it off.)

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys slightly ridiculous stories, spies, dramatic irony, romance, court drama, sci-fi/dystopian-ish stories–AHH just read it!

Comments with spoilers:

I loved the fact that Justen created the revolution’s Reduction drug. It was the perfect device to create internal conflicts within himself, and basically the only thing that could rip Persis away from him.

Remy and Viana were really interesting characters. I loved how Remy joined the League of the Wild Poppy, as well as the moment she realized that Persis Flake was the infamous spy. Viana was a bitch, sure, but her character was complex and her relationship with Justen added to the story. The sibling dynamic between all three of them was well crafted.

The scene when Justen and Persis’s parents find out that Persis is the Wild Poppy was PERFECT. It was so simple and yet earth-shattering.

This book needed an epilogue. I wanted a longer happy ending!

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