This is the second of three weekly posts, where I rave about the genius of Chris Beckett and the wonder that is the Dark Eden sci-fi trilogy. Honestly, more people should be reading this modern sci-fi classic, so I really hope this post helps put these books into the hands of new readers. You won’t be disappointed. As this is a review of the second book in a trilogy, please note it does contain some minor spoilers if you haven’t already read Dark Eden.
Mother of Eden is Chris Beckett’s follow up to the Arthur C Clarke Award winning Dark Eden. I’ll admit this novel wrong-footed me at first. I was expecting to return to the characters of Dark Eden, which ended on something of a cliffhanger. Instead, Beckett begins a new story, albeit one which is still profoundly influenced by the events of the previous instalment.
John, Jeff, Tina and their enemy, David, are all long dead and generations have come and gone when Mother of Eden begins. As a result, I found it took me a while to get into the story, which centres on Starlight Brooking’s journey to the settlement of New Earth, founded by John Redlantern. When she falls in love with Greenstone, the kind, handsome son of New Earth’s leader, Starlight seizes the chance of a better life, far from her home in simple, dull Knee Tree Grounds.
However, John’s desire to improve the people of Eden and strive for something better has slowly been corrupted over the generations. As with Dark Eden, Beckett uses the fantastic and alien setting of the planet of Eden to explore the true nature of humanity. On New Earth, the strong have grown powerful, keeping their position through the exploitation and oppression of the weak and those deemed to be ‘different’.
Beckett deals with many difficult and complex issues in this book. The power that comes from the control of knowledge and the suppression and manipulation of history is handled well, as is humanity’s exploitation of nature. These themes are contrasted with Starlight’s innocent view of the world, reflecting the earlier generations who inhabited Eden. She challenges the conventions and established order in New Earth. Slowly her influence begins to grow as Starlight assumes the title of ‘Mother of Eden’, as Greenstone’s bride. With this title comes the power of celebrity, with consequences that have major ramifications for the future of New Earth.
The other aspect I enjoyed was how Beckett filled in the gaps in Eden’s history between Dark Eden and Mother of Eden. Small snippets and recollections sketch out why John, Tina and Jeff ultimately went their separate ways, each of them establishing their own communities. Just as the haunting backstory of Tommy and Angela was brought to life in Dark Eden, Beckett pulls off the same feat in this book with considerable skill.
Mother of Eden takes a while to get going but Beckett slowly builds up the tension with each chapter, deftly moving the plot forwards. The final quarter is a compelling read and I had no idea how the story was going to end, which kept me turning the pages. I think Beckett has to be commended for choosing not to continue straight on from where the narrative ended with Dark Eden. That decision allows him to tell a broader and more imaginative tale, which had me utterly captivated by the end. This is a superb follow up to a book that I consider to be a masterpiece.