A scifi retelling of Austen's [b:Persuasion|2156|Persuasion|Jane Austen|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1298411870s/2156.jpg|2534720]! Generations ago, unchecked experimentation with genes led to the next generation born mute and intellectually low-functioning. After the wide-spread prevalence of these "Reduced" humans began to make it clear that humanity as we know it was finished, a global nuclear war consumed the rest.
But all was not lost. Some, who had been too poor or conservative for the gene modifications, hid in shelters for generations. At last, they emerged onto the surface to a changed world. Elliot North's ancestors were sure that all that was left was a few islands, and that the rest of the Earth had been destroyed. The Norths and the other Luddite families began farming the surface, taking care of the Reduced in exchange for their labor, always careful to use only traditional methods in their lives. Generations passed in this feudal state. But then some children of the Reduced were born non-Reduced, and the world order was shaken again.
Elliot North was born into an age of transition. The Children of the Reduced (or Post-Reductionists, as they liked to call themselves) start demanding pay for their work, and even rights like marriage or the ability to travel. Luddites still owned land, but it was the Posts who were making money in new industries. Elliot was fast childhood friends with a mechanically gifted Post named Kai. But he ran away, and rather than go with him, she chose to stay behind to run the estate and take care of the remaining Reduced. Years later, her spendthrift father&sister have run the estate into the ground, and they rent one of their mansions to a family of Posts. With the Posts comes Kai, grown handsome, successful, and rich. Elliot is horrified to discover that Kai has become a stranger to her--and worse, a stranger who hates her for not being brave enough to escape with him years ago.
It's a fascinating world and set-up, and it works well to set up similar social strictures and tensions as in England's Regency period. Without those rules and limits, the story itself doesn't work particularly well; this has hampered many a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen's work. But Peterfreund's post-nuclear world is hierarchical and controlled in a way that works with the story, instead of rendering it moot. That said, although Elliot North is a strong character with a painful burden, her pain just can't compare to Anne Elliot's, nor can Kai's romance with a neighbor be taken as seriously as Wentworth's with Louisa. It was always clear to me that Elliot and Kai would end up together, whereas even when I reread Persuasion I can't help but feel tense that Anne will be forced to die a faded and lonely spinster. But comparing Peterfreund's writing to Austen's is unfair, and really, I should instead congratulate her in not feeling bound to the original inspiration. This story has many subplots and details all its own, and never feels like it was forced to take artificial turns to fit better with Persuasion. It feels like a story in its own right, and it's a good story indeed.