My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Like a lot of reviewers, I’m not sure how I feel about Dark Eden. It didn’t bore me, which is always a good thing – the question is whether the total sum reactions are positive or negative. In the end I came down with “positive”.
And if you’re wondering how that’s possible, allow me to use American Presidential elections as a simile; the overall result will be a landslide, yet every state is too close to call in advance type scenario.
That’s how I found DE going through it. I was on the fence for almost every aspect but enough “categories” won out.
The underlying sociological stuff is good, very good. Usually this sort of thing is done poorly in spec fic and the author’s efforts do pay off here. There was a genuine organicness to the setting that didn’t feel tacked on or papered over, and some interesting insight (imo) into a hypothetical society with almost no patriarchal bias.
The story of Angela Young, the story’s “Eve”, (including the tribal retellings and re-enactments of her life) are incredibly powerful, despite the fact that she is long since dead and gone.
My main difficulty – and this, I suspect, is where it garners a lot of hate – was the almost physical pain of having to sit through a novel where every POV character is little better than a caveman in terms of narrative capacity. Don’t get me wrong, it’s immersive and probably well done, not to mention it creates a very distinctive voice. But the temptation to flee into a different book with a more conventional set of characters is pretty strong.
John and Tina are a head and shoulders above the others in terms of readability, almost to the point of dubiety given their upbringing and low level of education, but I can’t complain about that too much; I was honestly just relieved to have a more straightforward set of POVs to go through.
This is of course very personal as a bias. Whenever possible I’d rather have a lucid, literate character, however much that constrains the setting or prose (and frankly, it’s rare that it does – this is probably an unusual case as a result).
The plot is not remarkable; I would compare it to a coming of age story, in the sense that you already know what the ending is going to be and you’re only reading to assess how well the author puts the characters through their paces. The book feels exploratory rather than decisive, which is really not a bad thing.
The final element which tips this to positive for me is a certain insouciant rebellion on my part against this trend of high-action, pretend-to-be-a-thriller madness which is currently gripping modern fiction (even spec fic). I admire a book that is confident and calm and thoughtful, which takes its time rather than dragging you from pillar to post with a series of carefully scripted marketing hooks.