Review: Dark Eden: A Novel

Dark Eden: A Novel
Dark Eden: A Novel by Chris Beckett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the alien, sunless planet they call Eden, the 532 members of the Family shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees. Beyond the Forest lie the mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it.

The Oldest among the Family recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross the stars. These ships brought us here, the Oldest say—and the Family must only wait for the travelers to return.

But young John Redlantern will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. He will abandon the old ways, venture into the Dark…and discover the truth about their world.

Dark Eden is quite literal to it’s name – it is the story of a colony of humans living in a distant planet, all of whom were the descendants of the two first people stranded. The settlers are called Family and they grew exponentially each generation to now be around five hundred of them. Among these five hundred individuals is John Redlantern, a teen boy who has big ambitions, that take him beyond the Circle in which his Family has stayed for generations. The journey he and his comrades set out on and the resulting effect it has on the Family as a whole is the main agenda of the story. Though labelled as science fiction, it is more of a survival kind of story mixed in with dystopia. The Family has these rules about living there – there is a kind of innocence to them in that they do not know of evil. You can say that humanity has had a fresh start – they do not know of murder except that for hunting, they live more or less united until John sets out to alter the status quo. In their innocence, they was also stagnancy and where there is no progress, things do start to take a bad turn. The ways of the Family start to seem stifling to the newer generation, who don’t wholly believe that a rescue ship would come for them from Earth and think that they should be thinking of survival first rather than tradition.

The writing style is quite elaborate, but the speech is quite stunted – which is because it is written as the thoughts of these people, who have just some vestiges of the English language. At times, I was stuck on what they meant – like Juice for Jews, Any Virsry for Anniversary, and so on. The characters are quite diverse in their personalities and each perspective gives a unique insight into the situation, making you quite unbiased to the story as whole. I felt that the whole progression of the story was based on John’s ambition to break free from the old, no matter the cost. He wasn’t content with what was existing, even when he does something new and this you see from Tina’s eyes, who is like a companion and lover to him. There is no romance, really, since this is a survival story and even within the family, they don’t have the institution of marriage or bonding or anything. As you can guess, there is quite a lot of inbreeding (when you start with two, what else do you expect?) and the unfortunate results of these unions are discriminated against. Though unlearned in genetics, the survival of the fittest theme continues – so you see resentment among those people for the ones who seem perfect. Of course, it isn’t all resentment – but that is one of the factors which divides them. If not for their laws, they would have been savages – but even that doesn’t help when finally the Family breaks apart. It was an interesting lesson as to how the human nature can turn bad even with a clean slate. Also, some biblical themes get shouted out from the text, mainly of the first murder and all that. Another issue it raised was patriarchy – the tradition of the Family is that all are equal and women being more in number, they usually hold leadership positions. But when it comes to power, the men start to make it about themselves – a point stressed on quite a few times in the story, how the dominance of males resulted in both their progress and their conflict. Even John has his flaws, because he tries to make the whole journey about him doing something great – for the glory of the thing, which made me quite enraged at him. But there is also that if he hadn’t taken initiative, the story would have never gone beyond the Circle.

The pace of the story, I would warn, is slow. After reaching one-third of the book, I was wondering how long would we be regaled with tales of how they lived but once the turning point of the story comes, it gets interesting. The pace remains the same but the progression of the story keeps you hooked. Add to that, more perspectives are added as the group separates and then you start to wonder about the what-ifs. What if the character hadn’t done this, what if the character hadn’t gone along – it makes you think about all the things that could have gone wrong and all that did. When they find that new place, you are still wary about the next danger because survival stories rarely end well. The characters were written quite beautifully and the development that went into John was commendable. The ending, was open-ended, but thankfully not on a cliffhanger. Things can go either way, and with the whole Eden spread out before them, I say the sequel would be worth a read too. It was an interesting read, even though a bit lengthy, but on the whole quite enjoyable.

Received a copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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