Book Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Publisher: Broadway Books

Publication Date: April 1, 2014 (first published January 1, 2012)

Edition: Paperback, 441 pages

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5


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. -2 cents

This was an amazing story. Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had read quite a few reviews where they said that this was a very good story, but the language was a major issue (with one stating it was unbearable to read). Then I read others saying there was a whole other level to story, exploring sociological and psychological issues. Now that I think of it, I guess I was expecting this to be good; the real question was just how good.

It has been over 150 years since Angela and Tommy were first left on the alien planet Eden waiting for Earth to return to rescue them. They made a circle in the ground with stones to show where Earth would return to, and so they would not stray far. It started with the two of them alone, but now both have long died, and their children, and children’s children, and etc. are still waiting in the same spot.

The population is growing at an alarming rate, food is running deathly scarce, and they are running out of room in their circle. Yet Family of Eden refuse to leave, adapt, or change any of their ways.

One young boy, John Redlantern, see the flaws and dangers of their thinkings and tries to warm them off it, but the Council will not hear of it, and are convinced he is trying to destroy Family. Because they will not listen, John takes drastic steps, and soon leaves to go into Dark, to explore what else Eden has to offer.

This “language barrier” people where having trying to read this – I didn’t see it. It was very evident what people were claiming the issue was, but it was not a distraction at all, and by no-means was it unreadable. Instead of saying “very cold”, they will “cold cold”. Or because they don’t know how to spell some words, “radio” will come out as “Rayed Yo”.

They story is told through multiple POV’s using the first person. Beckett could have limited these odd linguistics strictly to the dialog only, but I think that would have lessened their effect. In using them in their thoughts as well, he is stressing in the differences between us (Earth) and the people of Eden, and showing how far removed they actually are from civilization on Earth.

At first I was a little confused and in a bit of disbelief that the people of Eden were living like they were. All huddled around a circles of rocks waiting for Earth to return for more than 150 years! (I mean, if you get shipped wrecked on a beach, it makes sense for the first few weeks or months to stay on/near the shore to signal for help. But after a couple of years, or even 150+ years, I think you need to move into the jungle and realize help may not be coming. And if help does come, I think it will look more than just on the sand.) I couldn’t tell if it was ignorance or optimism keeping them there. Either way, it didn’t matter; they were foolish! But quickly we learn the back story of how the people came to be on Eden and how their Family is currently governed, and it made sense why they thought like they did.

In comparison to rest of the people, our main protagonist John Redlatern seems like a rebel anarchists. By our standards, what he suggests seems like less than common sense: moving out of the circle to make room for people; the realization of how quick people multiply and it’s effect on the Family; if Earth comes, they will search more than just the circle; maybe try exploring more than two feet for more/different food sources. Make sense to us, but from hearing the Council and people of the Family, you’d have thought John was speaking blasphemy!

This constant struggle between John and the rest of the Family is where the novel shines. John makes suggestions, with logical and rational reasons, trying to help Family, but Council is too afraid to listen to John, and to change their ways. They are convinced that he is trying to break up Family and do them harm. This is where the sociological aspects – particularly evolution of society – of the story come in, and there is too much for me to point out or talk about for merely a book review, but it is there, and impressive.

I have already mentioned that the narrative style is told in first person. It is mainly John and his lady-friend Tina Spike Tree (our supporting protagonist?) that we have POVs for, but there are also a few other characters thrown in here or there for a different perspective when certain events call for it. Again, choosing to use first-person was an excellent choice. Becket is able to change the voice in character’s mind so well, and it was crucial to story that we were able to see what they were thinking, and how they were feeling. John is 100% for change, and while Tina does supporting him, it’s more like a 50/50 thing. She agrees with John ideas, but is not necessarily as eager or forceful to get them going. With John, Tina, and the occasional side character POV, we as readers are able to get an excellent feel of how various groups are feeling about the situation.

I highly recommend this! The linguistic choice really isn’t a big issue, and I haven’t mentioned this yet, but Beckett’s writing was smooth and easy to read. Even if you aren’t invested in further exploring the issues presented, the story is still great and seeing how the characters deal with events will keep this book in your hands. (Actually, at times I had to put the book down, because I was so invested in the characters and was afraid of what might happen to them!).

You’re missing out if you haven’t read this.

4.5/5 Rating


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11 thoughts on “Book Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

  1. Tammy says:

    I keep reading great things about this. I really do need to try to fit it in sometime! I actually really enjoy books where the characters use different words that I may be used to.


  2. It’s good to hear the language didn’t bother you because I know it has been a barrier to many readers (I listened to the audio, so the mangling of the language and spelling wasn’t as noticeable to me). It’s really a fantastic story once you get past that, and I loved the socio-cultural implications. Do you think you’ll read the follow-up? I didn’t think Mother of Eden was anywhere near as good as this one, but it was an interesting take on the future of this society.


    • I do plan to! I meant to take one book off after Dark before reading Mother, but then… you know how quickly your reading mood can change :/

      I remember you thought that about Mother – not living up to this one – and I actually read a couple others with that same opinion. I wonder how different it would have been, had Chris decided to continue the story of John and Tina?


  3. Yep, I didn’t have a problem with the language either. It was maybe a little jarring in the very beginning, but didn’t take long at all to adjust, because as you said, it was all phonetic and obvious what they meant.


    • Exactly. It stood out at the beginning, but I thought it was cool what Chris was doing, and there no struggle with adjusting it. Even if someone didn’t like it, I don’t the language changes were that big of a difference to ruin the enjoyment of the story.


  4. Kaja says:

    This is a great review! I like books with multiple POVs if they’re distinct enough to tell apart (I recently read one where two guys just sounded EXACTLY the same… ugh).
    Have you seen the movie The Village (2004, I think)? It’s really creepy but is based on a similar idea – the people always stay in this village, surrounded by the forest, where allegedly some beasts dwell and kill people. It’s been years since I last watched it but it just rung a bell.

    Umm do you mean that everyone is related on the planet, like if Angela and Tommy were there alone, did they children have children? What is it with this week and incest?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Multiple POVs was key to the telling this story, and Beckett did it perfectly.

      Man, The Village… Yes, I saw that movie; I thought it was going to be so good! And I did like it, but when M.Night Shyamalan revealed his “big twist”, I was just like no. It lost me. I mean, really? That’s where the village is?

      Tommy and Angela actually weren’t related when they came to Eden, but it was up them two, alone, to keep the population going. So they had the first generation of kids, and then it was basically it was 300 years on incest XD


  5. Kaja says:

    Aw come on, The Village was scary! I mean, I know I’m terrible when it comes to scary stuff (I loathe it) but still, the suspense, the weirdness… I probably have a really skewed view of it, it WAS 10 years ago…

    Ick. Again, what is it with incest? (But this does sound remarkably like Adam and Eve, of course, which I guess is the point given how the planet’s name is Eden.)


    • It was creepy, but when we figure out where we were, and what the blind girl did – it just lost me. I was actually really liking it up until then. I did like The Happening though, and I think everyone thought that was a bad movie.

      I’m pretty sure Beckett did that on purpose. There are a lot of parallels to the Bible in this book.


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