Across a Star-Swept Sea

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
Across a Star-Swept Sea Book Poster Image
Exciting, complex dystopian spy romance based on a classic.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Although the dystopian Across a Star-Swept Sea was inspired by the classic turn-of-the-century adventure novel The Scarlet Pimpernel, readers won't learn directly about the post-French Revolution politics that inspired the original book. Still, this story may inspire some thinking about class prejudice and the ways political movements inspired by good intentions can go awry when leaders have absolute power.

Positive Messages

Fight for what you believe in. We can only be responsible for our own actions, and we must make those actions count. The way we react to evil defines what kind of person we are.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Persis is a hero in every sense of the word: She's brave, smart, and noble. She risks her own life to save others and comes up with complex plans to help political prisoners escape. The League of the Wild Poppy -- her friends who help her in her cause -- is made up mostly of intelligent, brave women who, though they support Persis, don't hesitate to question their leader's actions if they don't agree with them. Persis' love interest is a scientist whose goal is to find a cure for a debilitating brain disease.

Violence

Mistreatment of slaves and prisoners is understood to be physically violent, but there's no graphic description of exactly how they're tortured or hurt. Guards have guns and shoot at people, but no one's killed. There are a couple of hand-to-hand conflicts, but no one's seriously hurt.

Sex

Three passionate kisses.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters in Across a Star-Swept Sea drink "kiwine" (kiwi wine) at parties, which makes them tipsy. They also take "genetemps," drugs that change your genetic makeup, and "pinks" are pills given to prisoners to make them lose their mental faculties. Traditional recreational drugs are not mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Across a Star-Swept Sea is a dystopian novel by Diana Peterfreund (For Darkness Shows the Stars) based on the classic novel The Scarlet Pimpernel and includes political discussion about the responsibilities of the rich to those less fortunate. A young girl goes on dangerous spy missions to protect people from being imprisoned. Though there are hints of violence toward prisoners -- perhaps even torture -- there's no graphic detail. There's romance and three passionate kisses.

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What's the story?

ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA shares the same apocalyptic backstory of author Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars, but the residents of the Polynesian-like islands of New Pacifica have taken a notably different approach to their lives. A revolution has occurred, but not everyone's happy with its results. Ever since Galateans started drugging their aristocratic political prisoners with \"pinks,\" a pill that turns the takers into drooling idiots, a spy known as the Wild Poppy has been traveling from nearby Albion to rescue \"aristos\" out from under the Galateans' noses. No one would guess that that spy is Persis Blake, an aristo girl who seems to care only about dresses and parties. When young Galatean genetic scientist Justen defects to Albion, he and Persis pretend to be a couple as a distraction, but just as they start to really fall for each other, Persis discovers a disturbing truth about Justen. When a soldier resolves to root out the Wild Poppy's identity, Persis and Justen must decide if they can trust each other enough to defeat their common foe.

Is it any good?

There's a lot going on in Across a Star-Swept Sea. To start with, the political climate is based on the aftermath of the French Revolution but includes its own vocabulary of "aristos," "regs," and various high-tech terms, along with an apocalyptic backstory about how the society ended up on these islands in the first place. There are pro-revolution and anti-revolution factions, as well as genetic manipulation and women's rights (or lack of them). Also, in the large cast of characters, many are not whom or what they appear to be.

However, readers who stick with the somewhat confusing beginning will be rewarded with a rich and exciting story, filled with heroic spying adventures, double- and triple-crosses, and just the right amount of romance. Fans of Peterfreund's first book set in this world, For Darkness Shows the Stars, will enjoy a brief appearance by its main characters.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the pros and cons of "palmports," the smartphone-like devices that are installed in the hand and that send "flutternotes." Do you think having this kind of technology literally at your fingertips would be worth the health risks?

  • Why do you think dystopian novels are so popular these days? Are they a kind of commentary on our world? In what way?

  • Which of the technologies in Across a Star-Swept Sea do you wish existed today?

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