I write long reviews and I cannot lie…..
Last month I read the young-adult fantasy, “Dividing Eden”. I will confess that part of the reason I took it home was because of it’s gorgeous cover. I mean, look at that.
Did the story inside live up to my expectations? Keep reading to find out!
Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau:
*Note: For those who are new to my reviews, I don’t include or write synopses. You can find much more elegant and concise synopses on the official book page or site, then come back here. 🙂 I try to give spoiler warnings, but I’m not perfect, so tread carefully.
I am so torn about this book; how to feel about it, and how to review it. There are parts I really liked, but so many things that just didn’t quite hit the mark.
You could say I am…divided on it.
(I am not at all sorry for that. )
Overall, I think it has a lot of potential, even if that potential isn’t fully realized. The book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, and it is clearly set up for a sequel. I am hopeful that the sequel expands on some of the ideas that Dividing Eden introduces.
The world building is one of the biggest areas (maybe the biggest) that had a lot of potential, but needed more development. Charbonneau sets up a kingdom that is familiar and yet is not. The political structure of the monarchy is familiar, as are the roles of the characters. People look and act the way we might expect in a traditional fantasy setting. And yet, there are creatures with unfamiliar names and technology that is more advanced than other novels set in similar settings. Here, the kingdom of Eden relies on wind technology to provide power. The palace is even referred to as the “Palace of Winds.” (Is that a Zelda reference? I hope so.) I thought this was a clever way to introduce modern concepts into a more archaic setting and establish a more original culture and technology. Nope. Aside from an (overly lengthy) explanation early on as to how the windmills work, the influence and exploration of this technology isn’t really developed. If we essentially have electricity, why is the city largely still primitive? Aside from electrical lighting, we don’t see much use for the wind power. That’s a shame. Similarly, the book suggests that Eden is physically located in a such a manner to maximize the potential of the winds. So, that might give them an edge in terms of technology and advancement over other countries and kingdoms, right? Apparently not, since they’re losing a war that isn’t really explained, yet serves as a plot device. Maybe it’s just me, but I was disappointed to find that as the story unfolded, the world of Eden wasn’t really any different than many other “idyllic fairy-tale kingdom” settings.
The main characters, characterization, and individual character arcs seem unbalanced.
There are two main characters, the twins Carys and Andreus.
We are introduced to Carys first, and right away, she comes across as intelligent, determined, but perhaps a bit cold. She claims she can’t afford to show weakness, yet we are later shown that she has a history of being (or appearing) emotionally unbalanced. Throughout the story, she is revealed to be loyal, mentally strong, and insightful. She acknowledges and understands her weaknesses and makes appropriate decisions along the way. Even when we consider her major flaw (I won’t say what to avoid spoilers), the way she handles that particular attribute is so well done, that it’s hard to see a real problem. I didn’t really feel like Carys has much character development at all. The Carys at the end is pretty similar to the Carys we opened with, although perhaps with a bit more grit and determination.
Her twin brother, Andreus, starts out as kind, generous, and caring; an apparent opposite to his sister’s cool manner. But it doesn’t take long for these positive traits to be brushed aside. He quickly is shown to be naive, easily manipulated, and — worse — very willing to destroy the sister who has spent her life caring for him (to her own detriment) for the sake of a pretty girl.
Andreus’ reasons for falling for this girl (whose name I completely forget, because her personality is bland and largely forgettable, but who is the kingdom’s High Seer) aren’t even well founded. He’s in “love” with her because he thinks she’s fragile and broken and needs protection. REALLY? Like we need another white knight in the world of fantasy. Excuse me while I retrieve my eyeballs from the top of my skull.
One could argue that this behavior has a basis in his character (a need to protect others to make up for his own weakness), but it’s so shallow and so reminiscent of too many real-life examples that the behavior is a hard pill to swallow. This is to say nothing of his rampant womanizing, demonstrated before meeting said bland girl.
I can imagine that the author meant for these qualities to play off each other and to create a sense of duality in the twins, but it’s so extreme that it just comes across as unbalanced, heavy-handed, and obvious.
It’s pretty clear that Carys is meant to appear “dark”, but is really representative of the positive qualities of loyalty and selflessness, while Andreus appears “light”, but represents the negative qualities of selfishness and a desire for power.
While this could be a good idea, I saw the revelation from the beginning…easily within the first quarter. There’s no subtlety to the character differences, and the whole idea suffers.
I won’t talk about the story itself too much to avoid spoilers, but I found the pacing to be odd. It starts kind of slow with a lot of time spent on the “Trials,” lots of detail on the first several trials, and then, suddenly, we’re done. There’s a bit of intrigue in the middle that is revealed/resolved quickly, and again, I saw the “truth” coming a mile away.
As previously mentioned, the main story arc isn’t resolved by the book’s end. Some story threads and questions are completed and answered, but there are many questions left. Some readers may not mind, but I personally hate these intentional cliffhangers, and the lack of resolution of major story questions does reduce my overall enjoyment of a story.
The author also does a lot of “telling,” but little showing. For example, from the beginning, we’re told (from Carys’ internal monologue) that there are multiple dangers, especially within the royal court. But these dangers are never realized or shown. We are told over and over how devious and dangerous the various members of the court are, but we’re only given a few hints. It’s difficult to believe some of the claims of danger (e.g., if the prince’s secret gets discovered, the court politics, the zhelozi creatures, etc.) because we never really see any danger or result.
I saw another reviewer mention that s/he thought this was a breakout novel for a new author and was very surprised to find the author was already well established. I can only agree. I thought for sure this was new, based on all the “telling.”
That being said, I thought the overall writing style was well done; simple, yet elegant. The author doesn’t get in the way of the story, trying to impress the reader with overly flowery phrases and descriptions. It’s not boring to read, and you’re not overwhelmed with unnecessary phrases and words. The prose is well constructed.
It was a mostly enjoyable read, if frustrating at times. I finished it in a couple of days and didn’t put it down for long. While I saw several of the plot twists before their reveal, there were other plot points of suspense that kept me interested. Both Carys and Andreus have a secret that isn’t what it seems to be by the end, along with allies that clearly have their own agenda. I’m curious enough about these unanswered questions to read the sequel (although I think I’ll check it out from the library to read it before I buy it). I’m also hoping to see more of the world-building and deeper insight into our main characters. Maybe Andreus isn’t as much of a naive twit as he appears to be. Maybe.
I want to give this 2.5 stars, but Goodreads won’t let me. My overall impression is that it felt a bit “meh” and could have been a lot better. There are several world-building ideas and characters that are interesting, but aren’t really explored as well as they should or could have been. Not bad, but definitely didn’t live up to its potential.
Have you read this book? Do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to share!
(This review has been cross-posted to GoodReads)