It’s time for my first review on this brand new blog! Read on to find out what I thought about Tim Lebbon’s Eden. This fair and unbiased review was conducted with gratitude for the free electronic copy of the book which I received from the publisher.
This review contains an affiliate link to Bookshop.org, which will earn me a commission if used, and will help to support independent bookshops.
Earth’s rising oceans contain enormous islands of refuse, the Amazon rainforest is all-but destroyed, and countless species edge towards extinction. Humanity’s last hope to save the planet lies with The Virgin Zones, thirteen vast areas of land off-limits to people and given back to nature.
Dylan leads a clandestine team of adventure racers, including his daughter Jenn, into Eden, the oldest of the Zones. Jenn carries a secret–Kat, Dylan’s wife who abandoned them both years ago, has entered Eden ahead of them. Jenn is determined to find her mother, but neither she nor the rest of their tight-knit team are prepared for what confronts them. Nature has returned to Eden in an elemental, primeval way. And here, nature is no longer humanity’s friend.
In keeping with a lot of recent fiction, there’s a clear environmentalism angle to Eden. If it wasn’t obvious from the description itself, it’s certainly hammered home in an early scene in which the team of adventurers fly low over the landscape, catching glimpses of polluted rivers, trees struggling to survive, and we learn of the other disastrous effects humanity have had on the Earth. From floating garbage islands large enough to harbour pirates and terrorist cells, to refugee camps for the millions displaced by climate change, the team have seen more than their fair share of ecological heartbreak.
Speaking of the team, they represented something extremely rare for me, in that they are all likeable. Every single one of them. Normally when I’m reading something where I know it’s going to get bloody, there are at least a couple of characters who I find myself eagerly anticipating the untimely, gruesome demise of, but not here. They aren’t one dimensional, none of them start shrieking and panicking irritatingly when things get messy, and above all, they just come across as very believable. They’re also a range of ages, which is very refreshing. Little details about them are revealed in a way that feels subtle and organic, and nothing that any of them say that gives us information about themselves or another character ever feels clunky or like obvious exposition. The dialogue between them all is consistently excellent, feeling realistic and genuine, and the way the characters speak to one another is a perfect example of showing not telling. We really get a sense of the sort of people these characters are early on from what they say and how they say it, and there’s a wonderful feeling of camaraderie between them all. The theme of relationships is a prominent one, with the team of seven made up of couples and long-time friends. The group is described as working like a well-oiled machine more than once, despite the high-pressure situations they frequently find themselves in.
Admittedly, these situations are ones that could have been avoided, were it not for their unique hobby, that of racing across areas of the world specifically set aside to be reclaimed by nature. Although they are aware of the fact that they shouldn’t be there, the thrill of the unknown is just too strong a call for them to resist. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Richard from Alex Garland’s The Beach, with his desire to tread where humans hadn’t trodden before (and in fact, aren’t permitted to tread). It’s that dangerous combination of wanderlust, curiosity and entitlement that sees them placing themselves quite willingly in harm’s way, but unlike Richard they have much more in the way of credentials when it comes to surviving in the kind of environment they’re heading into. Well, they think they do at any rate. Because, unfortunately for them, Eden is not like the other Virgin Zones they’ve explored before.
There’s an eeriness to their surroundings as soon as they cross over the boundary, which is made abundantly clear from both the descriptions of the flora and fauna and from the way it unsettles the characters. Thanks to shorter chapters that show what’s happening in other parts of Eden away from the main party, the tension builds steadily as they start to realise that perhaps they shouldn’t have come here after all. There are warning signs early on, which become more overt and disturbing the further the team venture. It’s all highly atmospheric, particularly when they come across those reminders that this is a place that humans occupied decades earlier, with abandoned buildings and equipment being subsumed by the forest in a way that almost feels post-apocalyptic, not to mention spooky. When the tension does finally break, it’s in explosive fashion, with no punches being pulled in terms of the carnage on show. The action is fast, frenetic and stylish, with prose that paints a succession of memorable and vivid images. The moments of calm between these visceral scenes will ensure you’re kept on your toes as much as the characters are too, as Eden increasingly sets its formidable defences against them.
Eden is a masterful slow burn that builds to a thrilling, fast-paced dash. I could happily read more about the world Lebbon has created here, with events that are alluded to having occurred in other Virgin Zones sounding interesting enough to warrant a sequel or prequel all of their own.
Eden is published by Titan Books, and is available through this affiliate link to Bookshop.org. They support independent bookshops, and usage of this link earns me a commission with which to buy more books for myself.