If the Wild Poppy dared return to Galatea, Citizen Cutler was ready. He'd stationed armed guards at the entrance to the estate and placed an additional ten soldiers around the perimeter of the taro fields.
"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. And Justen has secrets, secrets that could destroy their entire world."
I enjoyed For Darkness Shows the Stars, but it wasn't great or anything; this book, inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, was much better in many respects. Towards the end, I started to get tired of it, but I raced through most of the book, entranced by the world-building and action-packed plot. I was immediately swept away by this book; it was suspenseful and gripping, much more so than the other Peterfreund I've read. There's nothing very thought-provoking here (despite the author's attempts), but it's certainly good entertainment. There are some questions of morality that are in the story though, just like in The Scarlet Pimpernel. On the one hand, the aristos who are being rescued are nasty, entitled people, but on the other, they're still people and despite their own cruelty they don't deserve to be treated like animals, having their intelligence Reduced.
The Reduction is of course an added plot-line (it's also in For Darkness Shows the Stars). Basically, way back, some people started genetically engineering themselves, which worked for a while, but it resulted eventually in the Reduction, where "regs" lost their intelligence. Those who didn't undergo the genetic modifications (called Luddites in the world of For Darkness Shows the Stars) ruled quite cruelly over the Reduced, until a cure was discovered, and then the tables were turned. It's these harsh aristos who are being subjected to a taste of their own medicine, so to speak. It's quite horrifying, and also provides plenty of opportunity for political power play. And, Justen is part of it as well, having made the "pinks", the pills being used to reduce the aristos and anyone affiliated with them. All of this is a little confusing to sort out, but once I did I was fine.
The romance is added as well, because of course YA fiction has to have it. It wasn't bad, though I would have cut some of the scenes with Persis and Justen (what is it with weird names in YA fiction?) I was more interested in the intrigue and the action. I also feel there was another issue here; the two of them wouldn't tell each other things! I feel like Persis should have told him about her identity as the Wild Poppy early on, and he should have told her of his inadvertent involvement in making the pinks, and how sorry he was. Then a lot of the book's machinations would be have been irrelevant.
I enjoyed the way Peterfreund adapted The Scarlet Pimpernel; unlike the original novel, from the beginning we know the identity of the Wild Poppy, but Justen does not, and that is a particularly agonizing part of the story, which again, could have been solved if they had just been as honest as possible with one another. Still, Persis's personas are portrayed well; she's playing a dangerous role, as both a courier and spy and as a shallow socialite interested only in her wardrobe. You can tell that she's frustrated by always having to pretend to be so dumb.
One of the best things about this novel was the world-building; New Pacifica and its society really came to life, and I was enthralled by the descriptions of this lush world. It seems like paradise, but of course it's not. The book also boasts plenty of action.
More than halfway through the book, the characters from For Darkness Shows the Stars appear! I wasn't surprised, since I'd read a review that mentioned this, but it did feel a bit odd to me. I also didn't remember them that well, and they introduced a whole other aspect to the story's complexity (admittedly, the story isn't that complicated.
Ultimately, Across a Star-Swept Sea was a good book of its kind, so if you like YA, I'd recommend it. However I've found lately that a lot of YA fiction feels trite and shallow and frivolous to me; I'm becoming even more of a snob.
Rating: 3.5 stars.