"Eden" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Titan Books
Written by Tim Lebbon
2020, 384 pages, Fiction
Released on 5th June 2020
Since the 1990s, Tim Lebbon has been one of the most prolific writers of dark fiction, comfortably hopping between fantasy, science fiction and horror. Recently, it was great to see his outstanding 2015 novel The Silence adapted into a decent Netflix film and I hope this encourages new readers to dig a little deeper. It is worth it, as his back-catalogue is vast, ranging from film novelisations and additions to existing franchises. However, he is at his most creative when producing original material, with Echo City being a personal favourite. Lebbon maintains that high standard of originality with his latest work, Eden, which again blends genres, this time with a strong environmental theme backing up a very entertaining survival story.
There are many eco-thrillers on the market these days and it is easy to fall into the trap of banging out ‘yet another’ novel about global warming, rising tides and temperatures, with the end result being neither fresh or original and the reader feeling they have been there before. Although Eden falls into this literary ballpark, Lebbon wisely avoids these pitfalls by giving us very little background information, forcing the reader to join many of the enticing dots he drops. All we know is that the story is set slightly in the future where mankind does indeed suffer from these types of environmental problems, but the plot does not dwell on them in the slightest. Every chapter has a very clever (and insightful) quote or anecdote which helps paint the bigger picture, from organisations such as United Zone Council and the Green World Alliance; in addition, there are quotes from bloggers, soldiers and anonymous sources. All of which combined are cleverly drip fed to the reader about the current troubled state of the world.
The action opens with a group of adventurers about to enter Eden, which is one of thirteen Virgin Zones which have been created across the world to allow nature to thrive and rebuild. Man has not been allowed to enter any of these massive thirteen Zones for over fifty years, although adventurers frequently sneaked inside to steal wildlife, explore, or get their kicks by breaking travel records set by rival extreme-sport group. The Zones are guarded by soldiers who use deadly force to defend them from infiltrators. Everything in these areas has been totally reclaimed by nature, which thrives without the interference of mankind, with many of the population itching for a peek inside one of these mysterious locations.
Eden is the oldest of the Virgin Zones and is trickiest to gain access to and travel across; amongst the secret world of thrill-seeking conquering Eden would be the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest back in the 1950s. Dylan leads a team of adventurers into Eden and intends to cross it with the minimum of equipment, before being met at the other side and smuggled out with bragging rights in the adventure community once the word of their success gets out. Lebbon also does a fine job of painting a picture of why these guys are into this type of extreme activity, even if it was misguided. Surprise, surprise, things do not go to plan and there is something very nasty in the forest.
Once the novel started to move through the gears, I began to find myself marvelling at the descriptions of the wildlife, the forests and especially the remnants of mankind which has been completely reclaimed by nature in the passing fifty years. When I was a kid in the north of Scotland in the mid-1980s, we lived close to a ruined mansion called Lessendrum House, which was off the beaten track and had a rarely-used road leading to it. At some point this road fell into disuse and when my family revisited five years ago whilst on holiday, you would never have known there was ever a road in the first place, and the house itself was unrecognisable from three decades earlier. So, Tim Lebbon calls it correct, in fifty years nature would reclaim everything as it does in Eden.
This is a beautifully described book, and perfectly paced. Even though it takes its time getting going, it is easy to allow yourself to be swept along into the atmospheric and eventually threatening location. Written in the third person, Dylan is the senior member of the group, accompanied by his partner Selina, daughter Jenn and the remainder of the team: Cove, Aaron, and Lucy. Although they are all nice enough characters, many of which have their own motives for being there, you might not cry too much as their numbers dwindle. Some readers might even think they have it coming as nature takes its revenge, with the jungle being one of the best characters in the book!
You could argue that much of this novel is speculative rather than science fiction, as in the future locations such as this could well exist. Although there is something nasty out there, in many ways nature is the true beast and there are some excellent action sequences in the final third which are well worth waiting for in which nature is the true threat. The build-up is equally intense, it reminded me slightly of the 1980s action classic Predator, where the soldiers are aware of the camouflaged creature, they can feel it is there, but cannot see it. This book taps into the same type of primeval fear.
Eden is an easy book to get sucked into and before long the atmosphere is so thick you will be hearing the cockatoos squawking in the night as you are dragged into this threatening Virgin Zone. This is an intelligent genre-bending story which does not overdo the uncanny elements and finely balances this with the power of nature and the respect it needs to be given. Recommended.
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