Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett

At once the place became so silent that you could hear the hmmmmph hmmmmph hmmmmph of the trees and even the faint chattering of the tiny glitterbirds, far far above us on the roof of the cave, like a reminder that we humans were strangers in Eden, strange, pale creatures, fallen by accident from the sky.
— Starlight Brooking

One of the great things about being a book addict is the joy of stumbling across something total new.  A decade or more a ago, an ill advised membership to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club (do book clubs even exist any more?) brought with it a book of the month called The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  Not being one for "fantasy", I intended to send it back, but general lethargy stopped me.  This turned out to be a good thing as the world of Locke and Jean is an amazing place to spend time in.  Likewise, about a year ago, a random Amazon recommendation offered up Dark Eden by Chris Beckett.  This was straight up Sci-Fi, which I do read a lot of, but from the blurb, it had a classic slant and an intriguing use of English.  I reviewed that remarkable book here,  and it is well worth a read.  Beckett has created a world, a planet, named Eden by The Family, the descendants of the astronauts stranded there.  With no near sun, the heat comes from the planet's core and the light from the bioluminescence  of the planet itself, Lantern Trees and the animals.  The Family is inbred and have developed a Matriarchy based around staying put, keeping the stories of Gela and the fathers going and waiting to be rescued.  John Redlatern sees the stifling effect of staying put and through the course of the novel, brings expansion, innovation and death to The Family, whether they like it or not.  Beckett, after a few years work and a previous incarnation as a serial, returns with the follow-up, Mother of Eden.

Set around 200 years after John led his followers over Snowy Dark, Eden is a much changed place.  The Family is split into factions, the Johnfolk, the descendants of John Redlantern's followers who search for innovation and progress, and the Davidfolk, those who stayed and stick to the traditions that John challenged.  We see this world through multiple perspectives, as we did in Dark Eden, with our primary guide this time being Starlight Brooking, one of the Kneefolk, who most represents the Eden we remember.  This is a clever device, using the commonality of the world we remember, while we experience this new, very different Eden.  The most noticeable change is the development of the language.  Less childlike, but still refined to their environment, the way the folk talk is familiar, yet disconcertingly alien.  While on a visit to Veeklehouse, Starlight meets Greenstone Johnson, son of the Headman of Edenheart, the capital of New Earth, the land John Redlantern had carved out, and falls for him.  Together they head back to Greenstone's home of metal and "cars", only for Starlight to discover a rigid, brutal Patriarchy.  The Big people are on top, and the Small people digging the ore from Eden and the domesticated and de-winged Bats at the very bottom.  Starlight is told she will wear Gela's own ring and be Gela, the Mother of Eden, to the people.  But, seeing the injustice in this medieval society, she sets out to change things with Greenstone.

The basic plot of what happens is rather straight forward and, from the above, you can probably figure out what will happen in Starlight and Greenstone's quest.  But, despite this, Beckett's world is so captivating and his characters so invested in that world that the story, what Beckett calls "an invert Bible story", keeps you glued to the page.  The hierarchy and society are familiar to us, but the way the story we know from Dark Eden has been twisted and turned by the Teachers of New Earth, the keepers of the "true" story, and the leaders, keeps you feeling oddly uneasy.  Coupled to that, the stories told that fill in the gap between the two books, we have to reconcile what we remember, what we thought would happen, with the conflicting understanding of those who's story we are reading.  In lesser hands, this framing would fall apart, but Beckett has created a wonderfully strange, wonderfully familiar world, that is compelling and small group of characters who path you see clearly, but cannot stop them from walking.  Given the author's worries about this book, it is an assured follow up.  Granted, there are plot points that fail to grasp you as intended and the more rounded language is a personal gripe as the strangeness of the English Beckett used in Dark Eden was one of its gems.  But, it works, it works very well indeed.  It is has an odd Rashomon-like quality, in that we are seeing a perspective that each of the characters view completely differently.  But the true saving graces of Mother of Eden is  the leap forward in time and Eden herself.  The 200 hundred years difference between stories allows Beckett to play with all of our preconceptions.  Seeing the manipulation of the The Family's stories for power and control echo the power of the Catholic Church.  The attempts by Starlight and Greenstone are akin to the early "heretics", such as the Cathars.  These elements, coupled with the simpler, softer viewpoint of the small people, remind us of how easily "Our Truth" can be managed for another's gain.

Mother of Eden is not what I was expecting, but it is all the better for it.  The star of the book is Eden herself, the Planet and her wildlife are a wonderful creation and as usual, it's humans that cause all the problems.  Mother of Eden is disconcerting, disorientating and yet remarkably familiar, all of which makes it worth the journey to the edge of our Starry Swirl to the dark planet that makes her own light.  I have no idea if Chris Beckett is planning another trip to Eden, but I certainly hope he does.

Mother of Eden is published by Atlantic Books and is released on 4th June 2015.  

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