Fiction Reviews

Daughter of Eden

(2016) Chris Beckett, Corvus, £16.99, hrdbk, 394pp, ISBN 978-1-782-39239-2


I almost did not review this last in the trilogy that began with the acclaimed Dark Eden that won the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke (book) Award. That novel has more than a little Lord of the Flies about it, concerning as it does the not-too-distant descendents of a couple marooned on a distant world. Its very alien world and ever so slightly child-like (or uneducated) writing style intrigues the reader as to what is going on and how its characters ended up where they were, what they made of their predicament and how they saw their world. Needless to say it is firmly recommended.

Dark Eden was something of a modern SF masterpiece and Daughter of Eden simply cannot be read without first having read Dark Eden first…

So if you have not yet read Dark Eden, do not proceed further into this review as it will contain Dark Eden spoilers.

You have been warned.

Now, I almost did not review this as with a burgeoning unread bookcase and having gluttonly indulged in a reading binge this year (2016) I have been having to make some hard decisions. True Dark Eden was something of a rare SFnal masterpiece that had an intriguing, almost hard SF-ish set-up – 'almost' because the biosphere system would not really work – combined with a sound new wave approach to the storytelling all wrapped up in a core SF trope. Loverly.  Yet the Mother of Eden sequel, while a welcome return to this exotic world, was for the most part more of the same on the new wave, character and people driven story front, with little new (other than what we already had) on the SF side. And as much as I quite liked Mother of Eden, it really was not on a par with the original Dark Eden. Now, the publisher Corvus, for whatever reason, did not choose to market the first two books as part of a trilogy and that makes a big difference to the seasoned reader. Three standalone novels that are written because the author finds that s/he has discovered more material to mine is one thing; conversely, three novels with an over-arching, rough plot arc already envisioned is quite another. Such latter trilogies, and this 'Dark Eden' sequence is clearly such a trilogy, do tend to find the middle book a little disappointing as the temptation is to end the trilogy powerfully as it began which tends to mean that the middle book is left to progress matters so as to set-up the scene for what is to come in the climactic final offering: middle books in trilogies tend to flag. However, because Corvus chose not to loudly signal that there first books were part of a trilogy from the off, I assumed that Chris Beckett was simply coming up with more material. So let me reassure you that there is an overarching plot arc, that Daughter of Eden does bring the trilogy to a genuinely climactic conclusion and so is worth your attention especially if you enjoyed the first Dark Eden book.

It is now four centuries after the astronauts were stranded on the sunless world of Eden, only illuminated by bioluminescence and warmed by geothermal energy.*  The population has grown to many thousands and is split into two nations separated by a sea. Then one day Angie Redlantern spies rows of ships coming across the water manned with people wearing metal masks. There is trouble ahead. As she and others flee inland back to where it all began in an isolated valley in the mountains, the coastal settlement come under a brutal attack.

As they wait in the stone circle that was the original astronaut's landing site, a momentous event takes place that will shake the Eden culture to its core…

And alas I can say no more than that, other than this takes place a little over a third of the way in and after which the novel really propels forward. I could say far more if this were a critique rather than a book review, so you are just going to have to take it from me that Daughter of Eden is a very sound conclusion to the 'Dark Eden' trilogy that is itself a very engaging exposition as to how depressing we humans are as a species. Brilliant.

Jonathan Cowie


* Of course, from a hard SF perspective such a world as the Dark Eden would not evolve in nature. Having said that in SF anything can be made to work. So it would be possible to craft a rationale that does just this, as well as even explain as to how the astronauts originally came to be there. But such explanations would likely take the stories more into widescreen space opera territory with which this author may not be comfortable.

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