Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
So this one is an Arthur C Clarke award winner? And it is marketed as an adult novel? Very strange indeed.
The premise reminded me of Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Seriously. Once again we have a nice world with pretty lights, singing trees, edible animals and plants, potable water and an atmosphere comfortable for humans – almost a miracle. Two people, Tom and Angela, are left stranded there. They are given an opportunity to become a new Adam and a new Eve so to speak, starting from scratch. And what? The usual.
Angela bears children but is unhappy – she fancied another guy and was left with Tom instead. Tom is unhappy because Angela cannot love him back. Their kids sleep with each other (they had no choice but still) and quarrel. They have more inbred kids, some of them with horribly disfigured faces (small wonder, that inbreeding!) but the changes are deeper, more worrisome. Soon the whole population move backwards to a kind of neolithic era, with only the simplest tools and the simplest way of speaking. When a teenage revolutionary called John appears among them they want to punish him, kill him, chase him away and forget about his silly ideas. A small group follows John but it’s hardly clear why and what for.
So is it an adult novel? Not really. Yes, kids have sex in this one, a lot of it, and they change partners offhandedly because there is no such an institution as marriage. Still it doesn’t make this book ‘adult’. Showing women as baby-factories is also not especially original and adult. Different parts of anatomy used as swear words wouldn’t shock your ordinary teenager. Focusing more on sociological and biological questions and exploring them would make it definitely more adult but the author never explored that side of his story. By the way even though from the very beginning it was clear that Angela was more appreciated than Tom and her female descendants had been for some time the movers and shakers of the whole little society Beckett soon implied that the patriarchy is actually the natural step forward for any isolated groups of humans – a controversial theory to say the least of it.
To end my review on a slightly positive note I have to admit that I loved some parts of the world building. Those singing big cats, warm, light-emitting trees, bats with two pairs of hands and dozens of other new creatures helped me to finish this one.
It was a solid story with an original premise but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The narration was sometimes boring and sometimes annoying and I couldn’t relate to any presented characters. An outstanding sci-fi novel? Hardly. Meh.