Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
Published by Random House LLC on 2014-04-01
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Science Fiction
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.Already remarkably acclaimed in the UK, Dark Eden is science fiction as literature; part parable, part powerful coming-of-age story, set in a truly original alien world of dark, sinister beauty--rendered in prose that is at once strikingly simple and stunningly inventive.
I heard about Dark Eden probably close to a year ago. The blurb definitely intrigued me. It describes a population of humans on sunless planet where light comes not from the sky, but from the things that live and grow there. It’s a story of one young man breaking from the confines of the group, determined to explore the Dark that surrounds where they live and change the way their world thinks and acts. So why didn’t I read this sooner? It certainly got a lot of praise in the UK, winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel in 2013 and was a British Science Fiction Association Award Nominee for Best Novel in 2012. Well, while it was busy doing well in the UK, it was not released in the US. Until today, that is.
So, now that I have my hands on a copy of this book, what do I think? Does it live up to the hype? Hmmm. I suspect that will depend on who you are. It is different different. Personally, I quite enjoyed it. The world was eerie, yet had a beauty to it. Light (and not just white light, but variable colors of light) comes from trees and flowers. The trees also provide heat hot enough to burn. There are strange creatures that live here. Becket does an absolutely wonderful job creating this alien world. The foreign feel of the place is further enhanced by Beckett’s prose and the speech of the people there. It does a great job of helping the reader feel that this is not just a group of humans that just landed, but a new culture that has evolved as it has grown in this place. Words are often repeated to add emphasis (hence, my earlier use of ‘different different’), words, particularly ones that have to do with the technology back on Earth like ‘electricity’, are misspelled for phonetic mispronunciations that have evolved over generations.
The book is also a dark exploration of human society, how groups, laws, traditions evolve. Our protagonist, John Redlantern, feels his group is stuck and should evolve and adapt. He feels confined and restricted and pushes for change. His character, while able to push for change, is quite flawed. It’s nice to see a character that could have easily turned into a golden boy destined and able to save the world struggle. It also adds to the darkness of the book quite a bit.
I love dark books, and though the prose, particularly the speech patterns of the people of Eden, took a little bit for me to get used to, I really enjoyed this book. And it is worth getting used to the speech, because it really does add to the impact of the book. So, anyone looking for a dark dystopian science fiction book with a flawed protagonist, definitely give this one a go.
Dark Eden is released today, April 1st 2014, in the US by Crown Publishing/Broadway Books. Many thanks to the Crown Publishing/Broadway Books and NetGalley for the ARC in return for my honest review.