“Dark Eden” by Chris Beckett is one of these bugs that first start rather slowly but then just takes up more and more speed as you continue reading it. The premise feels a little bit like “Planet of Apes” without the apes. The book tells the story of a young boy named John Redlantern who lives on a strange planet that was accidentally colonized about two hundred years ago. Lacking a real connection to Earth the people on Eden live in a tribal society which strict rules John often doubts the wisdom of and slowly starts to rebel against certain parts of this way of life.
The author plays with dozens of taboos in our own western society and also with some of our basic instinct like a the fear of the dark and the unknown while making it clear that you often have to take risks to gain something. Another aspect of the book deals with not recognizing evil if you don’t really know what good is until it is too late. Combined with a setting that basically requires powerful rituals bordering on religion this all makes the people of Eden despite their lack of any kind of technology quite relateable. All the rituals are based around stories from when Eden was first “settled” by just two people who had to make up their own rules in order to populate this new planet. Despite all of his rebelliousness, John still believes in these stories and what they mean to his people but refuses to see room for only one interpretation in them. Because of all that, “Dark Eden” is not really a sci-fi book but more or less just uses that strange planet as a setting (just like “Planet of the Apes” did) for playing a sociological experiment.
The only flaw (from my point of view) I could find was that some of the decisions made by John hardly make sense, but that only distracts for a page or two when the plot picks up speed again. The setting and most of the characters are just too great and the longer the book goes the more interesting the planet itself and the origin-story becomes. A clear recommendation for a weekend-read :-)