Thursday, 11 July 2013

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (review)

Synopsis from Chris Beckett's website:

Five hundred people live in in single community in an enclosed valley on the sunless planet Eden where, over a century ago, their two ancestors were marooned. Calling themselves Family, they still cling to the hope that one day someone will come and bring them back to Earth, where light and heat does not come from trees, but from a bright star in the sky. John Redlantern defies Family’s most sacred traditions and leads a small group of followers out of the valley and across mountains that are not only covered in snow and ice, but are completely dark, in search of wider lands. It had to happen but it comes at a terrible price, for it brings bloodshed and division into the world. A novel about how people relate to the past and how they move forward into the future...

Source: Bought from Amazon Kindle
Rating: 4 - Highly Recommended

Check out my review after the jump:

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett was a book I downloaded on a whim after being recommended it by someone who works at the greatest bookshop on the planet, Mr B’s in Bath. She compared it to Patrick Ness and his Chaos Walking trilogy, which is pretty much the perfect thing to do if you want me to pick up a book. On the other hand, comparing a book to one of my favourite series of all time could heighten my expectations to alarming degrees. Fortunately, I’m really relieved to say, that I wasn’t disappointed. 

Dark Eden is a dystopian or sci-fi novel, depending on how you want to describe it, set in Eden, a planet with a population of about 500, all of whom descend from two people, Angela and Tommy, humans who landed there some decades before. The central character is a teenager, or newhair, called John Redlantern, who is filled with a restlessness that worries the adults of the settlement. It’s his actions that set the entire plot in motion, and the analysis of the wisdom, or not, of those actions that propels the book forward and creates splits between the personalities of the camp. 

The book switches POV fairly frequently, giving you a lot of angles and opinions on events, never letting you declare one party to be in the right and the other in the wrong. I really liked this way of telling the story as it means the reader can’t help but be caught up in discussions of tradition vs innovation, men vs women, right vs wrong.

"We are here. We are really here."

The world-building is also excellent. The descriptions of the way everything in the forest glows and lights-up in fantastical displays should make Eden a planet that deserves its name, but Beckett subverts that with the animals of Eden; giving them extra eyes and creating leopards who sing a lullaby to their prey to mesmerize them. He’s done a brilliant job of twisting language as well, imagining what English would sound like if a tribe of people were cut off from the rest of the world. So adverbs like 'very' don’t exist, and instead of ‘very good’, you would say ‘good good’. This felt so natural that I found myself saying it out loud in conversation! 

For me, the brilliance of Dark Eden came from the combination of that impeccable world-building and a plot that touches on all the big philosophical questions that keep us up at night. Can you ever truly know another person? Are men and women inherently different? Is it better to cherish the past or embrace the future? I’m glad Dark Eden doesn’t attempt to provide the answers to those questions, for me it’s enough that it asks them and lets readers draw their own conclusions.

Dark Eden has definitely made me want to pick up more books by Chris Beckett. Have you read any of his previous books? Or if you've read Dark Eden, what did you think? Let us know in the comments!

- Caroline

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