Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
There are far too many genres to keep track of, and their definitions are often permeable with one easily bleeding to another. A cladistics of genre would be at once insufferable, fascinating, infuriating, pragmatic, impractical, all-consuming, controversial, and delightful. Such is the nature of any type of organization. List makers revel in such commodious madness.
I’m beginning my review of Fiona van Dahl’s novel Eden Green with a discussion of genre because knowing how to view a work is supposed to provide an in to understanding it and determining its worth. Here’s what I know, Eden Green has an engaging, clever, brave, and often infuriating woman main character (the eponymous Eden Green) that carries the action of this adventure novel.
I could call van Dahl’s book sci-fi, speculative fiction, urban fantasy, or even new adult. Are there aliens? Yes. A virus or symbiotic organism that grants the main characters of the story powers? Yes. Is there an invasion? Yes. Is it set in our contemporary world but there random portals to another world? Yes. Are the main characters in their early twenties trying to figure out just where and how they fit in the world? Yes. Every one of those genre categories would be accurate and useless in getting a grasp on just what gives the novel its bite.
Eden, her best friend Veronica, and the mysterious new boy in town Tedrin are the only real characters in the story. While it might be tempting to force this into some kind of love triangle doing so would simply maul van Dahl’s story about the eponymous heroine.
Unlike the vast glut of genre, van Dahl is able to create a character with Eden Green that is casually real. She’s a young woman with an active mind and a deep seeded loyalty. As the plot of the story unfolds, it is Green’s internal monologue–her thinking through what she has just seen or done or must do–that gives the story its true action. Make no mistake, however, van Dahl is writing an adventure story so there it plenty of cinematic action or gory, if you will.
Told from the perspective of Eden, the world we encounter in the novel is our own but it is quickly turned upside-down. Van Dahl does a very good job of throwing us immediately into the action, Eden is on her way to meet her friend Veronica (‘Ron’) who she has been out of contact with for a week after the convenience store where Ron works burned down. From the first we have questions, we’re demanding answers just like Eden and what we encounter, just like Eden, are inadequate explanations and snide responses.
All of which come from the Tedrin. It’s revealed that this Asian-American bad boy has somehow saved Ron but only by sharing with her the trait that makes him unique. A symbiont or virus gives Tedrin (and now Ron) super strength and the ability to heal from the most grievous of wounds. In fact, it’s made clear that the symbiont/virus has made the host body practically indestructible. But, of course, at a price.
The novel is about discovering and coming to terms with this price, not just the battle with the trans-dimensional aliens. Yet the battle with the swarms of trans-dimensional alien creatures that are slowly migrating into our world via a small Arkansas town is the foreground action. Eden isn’t a college dropout, she’s intelligent but like so many people she’s gotten bogged down in the banalities that flood small town life.
Her best friend is pure white trash (the fact that the term ‘juggalo’ is used repeated and non-ironically should give you a sense of the kind of person Veronica is) and an emotional basket-case. Eden is the stabilizer, the part of the relationship that keeps things grounded. Without her, Veronica would fly off into the kind of casually drug-addled, soul-crushingly inane county drama that peppers the lives of millions who live in the middle of nowhere. Just underneath the skin of this friendship is this realization. It both embitters, invigorates, and stabilizes the two not just with each other but in the world they inhabit.
Insert Tedrin, an egotistical sexist piece of shit who upon meeting Eden and revealing what he has done to save Veronica, whom he is now in a relationship with, proceeds to gaslight, neg, and hit on her. Tedrin has been fighting these trans-dimensional creatures secretly by himself for some time and it was in doing so that Veronica was caught in the crossfire, killed, and only saved by him giving her his blood (riddled with a trans-dimensional organism). Tedrin essentially gives Veronica a STD and then expects to be praised for it. He is perhaps the most infuriating character I’ve read in a long time because he is the most casually normal character I’ve read in a long time. Tedrin is real, he is every GamerGater, Reddit troll, and 4Chan enthusiast. And Eden, properly, hates his fucking face.
The toxic relationship between Tedrin and Veronica sucks Eden in against her will. Tedrin, a true villain, ends up murdering and infecting Eden ostensibly so that she will be motivated to find a cure but in all honestly it’s clear that he simply wants a harem. Here is where the story breaks away from the cliche of melodrama. In quick succession Eden’s world has been shattered and reformed into something irrevocably other. This cataclysm is more significant than the soap opera a misogynistic sociopath manufactures, it cuts to the heart of Eden’s existence.
By the middle of the novel, Eden has walked away from Tedrin and Veronica to confront the alien scourge on her own. It was a fantastic moment when Eden said ‘no’ and turned her back on two the shittiest people in her life. I had hoped that Eden would continue on and forge her own new identity. There was a bright moment when Eden has not only gotten herself into a mental place to deal with her new body, being, and the alien world but was actually taking on the mantle of a hero.
Then it all came crashing down. Tedrin again inserts himself into her life. A murderer and a rapist, he is unable to see himself as being in the wrong and unable to see the world as anything but a foil for his own ego. Tedrin is not unlike David Tennant’s portrayal of Kilgrave in the Netflix series Jessica Jones. A misogynist who always sees himself as the victim even though he victimizes others.
But unlike that series which is about superheroes, van Dahl is writing a more gritty story taking a more pragmatic approach. Eden doesn’t just get sucked back into Tedrin’s psychodrama with Veronica, she ends up accepting it as just a fact of life. Her new life, new being, infected with the virus/symbiont is one where she has exchanged one white trash drama for another. The only benefit being, at least in this new one, she can save the world.
Van Dahl’s novel is solid and I find myself liking Eden Green as much as I loathe the other characters around her. Getting that sort of reaction of a reader is a skill and van Dahl deserves praise. She also deserves praise for crafting a novel soundtrack which I actually enjoyed as read and re-read the book:
I think Eden Green is an excellent character. She is a hero that is at once relatable and confounding, surprising and predictable. I hope that van Dahl does more with this character such as a further series of books. Also, the novel Eden Green would perhaps work better as a comic and I would love to see it serialized.
If you’d like to get a taste for Fiona van Dahl’s current work-in-progress, you can check it out here: New Night