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Daughter of Eden (2016)

by Chris Beckett

Series: Eden Trilogy (3)

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From a rising star of British SF comes the third and final part of the Eden trilogy, from the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, 2013.

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When Starlight went looking for adventure in the previous book, she left her best friend Angie behind. But kind little batface Angie Redlantern didn't stay on Knee Tree Grounds. She went on her own journey, looking for meaning with a shadowspeaker called Mary.

We catch up with Angie a decade or so later. She's a mother now, eking out a meagre but reasonably contented existence in Michael's Place, a small settlement near Veeklehouse. One morning Angie and her young daughter Candy see many boats coming across Worldpool. It's the Johnfolk, an army of them. With their blank metal masks and deadly metal spears, they've come to settle the generations-old feud with the Davidfolk over the breakup of Family once and for all.

War has come to Eden, and it's just as chaotic and terrible as any war on Earth. It turns Angie's life upside down, but then something bigger happens. Something huge. Something wonderful, and terrible. Something truly Eden-shattering.

Like the previous books, this is not your typical SF action-adventure. Beckett has written something philosophical and thought-provoking, and this is a clever book. Too clever perhaps, because at times I felt the ideas got in the way of a good story. But fans will want to complete the trilogy and Daughter of Eden is still an engaging read.


Daughter of Eden is a tale of two journeys: the desperate race to escape the invaders; and Angie's earlier spiritual wanderings with Mary. The latter is less fraught and switching between the two takes the sting out of unfolding events, but Beckett retains just enough tension to keep the pages turning.

Everyone from Michael's Place flees the invaders — women, children, men too old or infirm to fight, all of them worried about sons and friends who are fighting. This group is the Davidfolk in microcosm. Their resentments, their fears, their failings and their struggles show us the harsh conditions small people endure. Babies die, disability is rife, food and comfort is hardwon. Men dominate. Women can't refuse them and children are not spared the rod.

After an arduous journey the group reaches the Davidfolk's main settlement, but food is scarce. Soldiers on both sides are giving in to bravado and fear, becoming callous and brutal. The group risks the cold, dangerous crossing to Circle Valley. Even there, where the big people are gathered, things look bleak.

On the way, Angie says the mountain paths to Circle Valley are like a net, splitting and rejoining but all heading to the same place. That's a fantastic metaphor for Eden's splintering and regrouping societies. The second journey gives us in a wider view of those: Mary is a well-known shadowspeaker, so she and Angie have criss-crossed the Davidfolk's territory from one end to the other, and the range of tribes and customs depicted really creates a sense of Eden as a whole world.

This earlier journey is at the heart of the book. Angie gets close close to Mary, who we learn is a true believer. Mary is driven by her faith in Gela's voice, in Earth as Heaven — a faith we know is nonsense. But Mary genuinely believes that this faith helps people, that spreading it is the right thing to do, and she defends it fiercely, holding out against the demands of the big people, always ready with an answer for Angie's doubting questions.

Both journeys come to a climax in the Circle itself. There Mary tests Angie's faith, finds it lacking and turns her face from her. Suddenly, cruelly, without explanation. And there, when it seems only a miracle can stop the war, a vehicle from Earth descends from the darkness and lands. Suddenly, blazing with light, carrying too many revelations for comfort. (Yes, religious metaphors abound, but Beckett uses them deftly.)

These events are shocking, but I was surprised how much I hated Earth's return. I knew it wouldn't be a rescue and felt sure it would ruin Eden, alter it in some irrevocable way. You shouldn't meet your Gods; they're bound to disappoint.

And it was immediately apparent these gods were going to disappoint. The visitors from Earth didn't expect to find anyone alive. They came to catalogue fauna and flora, not stop a war.

Still, they try to give Eden the truth. About Earth, about Gela.

Eden isn't ready to hear it. And Mary is there, ready to deny it, to twist it into a new truth that fits her faith. But even Mary can't soothe the rage that erupts. The visitors are forced to leave, taking only Trueheart with them— a choice that came as no surprise; Beckett telegraphed it rather loudly. I wondered if she was the best choice. She's young and adaptable, but is she old enough to speak for Eden?

The ending that follows is happy-ish, but rather vague and unresolved. Eden isn't shattered by this cataclysm, or even much altered by it. Angie gains some control over her life at least: she and Mary ride off into the sunset, not many questions asked, for three-quarters of the year, their relationship apparently mended. But that seemed too easy, too convenient. I expected more repercussions between them, and across Eden. Yes, Angie's lot had improved dramatically, but she was the Daughter of Eden who met the Second Coming of Earth. Had other women gained as much freedom?

I was also disappointed that Beckett didn't revisit some loose ends from Mother of Eden. The bats' intelligence didn't seem to go anywhere; neither did the evangelic teachings that grew out of Starlight's championing of Gela's rules while she was the ringwearer – although Luke and Gerry's relationship suggested that the Johnfolk had become more tolerant in some things. But I was pleased that Angie stopped being the grateful dark to someone else's light, and as a metaphor for Eden finally stepping out of Earth's shadow, that is a good note to end the series on.

Now to technique. Beckett mostly sticks to one narrator this time, and Angie is a good choice. She's a small person, a woman and a batface, so she can show us Eden's underbelly, expose its shames. But she isn't confined to the margins of course, that wouldn't make for a good story. She is also Starlight's friend, and Mary's companion. And she's at the Circle when Earth returns — perfectly placed to become the visitors' guide so we get a ringside seat to all the action — but that is perhaps a coincidence too far.

Angie is a sharp observer, older and wiser than Starlight was in Mother of Eden and with, as a batface, a deeper understanding of other people. So we get to see them pretty clearly too. The Michael's Place people in particular—Tom, Fox, Trueheart— are very realistic, warts and all. The three scientists form Earth, Deep, Marius and Gaia, have distinct personalities, if a little clichéd, and it's great meeting Starlight again, all grown-up and a competent leader. Luke, the Johnfolk's brash young leader, makes a terrible mistake but is still presented sympathetically, no cartoon baddies here. Mary, though, filtered through time apart and Angie's mixed feelings towards her, didn't shine as clearly. That maybe partly down to tone. Angie is telling all this in retrospect, which makes her calm self-reflection seem natural but tends to flatten emotion and perhaps puts unnecessary distance between the reader and Mary.

At times, Angie relates events outside her experience. Beckett treats that with bold in-your-face honesty, and that works. The shift to Gaia, however, was jarring. Her first chapter, a sort of captain's log, has an official-looking title but begins with such simple language that it sounds like Angie, as if the shift was sloppily written and her voice had spilt over. (It's only much later we learn how Angie has access to Gaia's words, but that doesn't explain it either.) Her second chapter was so blatantly a Socratic dialogue between the three scientists that it struck me as forced and artificial. The third was the only one that seemed natural, which was a shame. It's not as if Beckett can't create individual voices when he wants to — the recordings of the original Gela were spot on, full of life and personality.

I also felt Gaia was anti-science. Of course science can't tell you how to live. Thinking it can is a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is. Science is a body of knowledge, one that we constantly add to and refine. The scientific method is just a tool for discovering things without our biases getting in the way. It can uncover the truth, but it can't tell you what to do with that truth once you have it. The difficult decisions, the ethical and moral choices, they still fall to you.

In some ways religion is the opposite: it promises to make the difficult decisions for you. And that brings me to Mary, who I also found problematic. Angie never fully trusted her, so neither did I. I suspected she had ulterior motives for befriending Angie. Was she trying to eliminate Jeff's teachings, stamp out rival beliefs? Was she after information on Starlight and Knee Tree Grounds? I thought that must be it when she cast Angie out, that she'd got what she wanted. Why be so cruel otherwise? But it turned out to be nothing like that. (Faith is not something I understand well, though. I'm an atheist and it's never been part of my make up.) I did, however, understand why Mary recast her faith when faced with the harsh reality of Earth's true nature. She simply couldn't abandon a story that she and so many other people had relied on all their lives. That's very human.

The Eden trilogy is about the stories we tell to keep ourselves warm in a dark, cold and uncaring universe, and how we deal with knowledge that conflicts with those stories. If Dark Eden was about the price of progress, and Mother of Eden was about power corrupting both story and knowledge for its own ends, then Daughter of Eden is about the truth and whether it really matters. Does it matter that the faith Mary peddles is based on an untruth, as long as it helps people survive difficult circumstances?

Yes. For me, it does matter. I'm not a sheep to be herded, or a child to be comforted. I'm a rational adult. I want the truth. But not everybody does; some prefer a comforting story.

That's probably where anti-science sentiment comes from. Science doesn't have a story. It doesn't have a hero or a villain or a satisfying ending. Numbers and graphs and cold hard facts just don't speak to us the same way. We humans make sense of the world by telling stories. We're programmed to learn from stories, to believe them. But we have the capacity for rational thought and we can break that programming. Especially if we recognise our own biases, our blind spots. Science can show us those, if we can bear to turn its light on ourselves. Ultimately, that's what I disliked most about Gaia: she seemed to be suggesting the Edenites were better off staying in the dark, telling comforting stories around the camp-fire. I disagree, strongly, and so I found Daughter of Eden less satisfying than it might have been. ( )
  Jackdoor | Nov 12, 2018 |
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From a rising star of British SF comes the third and final part of the Eden trilogy, from the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, 2013.

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