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Review - the long way to a small, angry, planet and Mother of Eden

A couple of reviews – The Long way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers, and Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett.

My work-work has been busy this last few weeks, which means I’m not writing much. And, when I’m not writing, I read. Which was great because I had a couple of books I really wanted to get to.

I’d been hearing a lot about The Long way to a Small, Angry Planet and was really looking forwards to it.

On a lot of levels, it didn’t disappoint. The alien portrayals were well done, thoughtful and clever. The writing was easy to follow with a light touch that kept the story moving along nicely. The scenario was a clever one, and nicely executed, and the characters were likeable.

All of which meant, when I was struggling to fully engage, I found it hard to put my finger on exactly why. Eventually, it came to me – I think – and the answer lay around tension.

There are plenty of areas where tension should be introduced, but wasn’t fully explored to my mind. The trip is rife with danger, with an unknown outcome, yet at few stages (until the very end) did I get the sense of building risk. The techs were all good at their job, the crew very able, but the book felt a little episodic to me – as if each event was something cool to explore (and each made for great reading), but didn’t contribute to the sense of an overall destination being marched to.

The end of the book more than delivered on the dangers of the mission, however, and therein lay my frustration. There was so much danger and tension that could have been built on, but weren’t there throughout. Having said that, the ending made up for it, with a real sit-on-the-edge of the seat reading session, long after I should have been in bed.

Overall, then, great characters, nice story, lovely writing style but it just needed a bit more tension for me.

On, then, to Chris Beckett’s Mother of Eden. Having loved Dark Eden this was one I was very much looking forwards to, but with reservations. I loved the characters in book one and, knowing this was set some years after their deaths, worried that I’d find it hard to get into this one.

I needn’t have worried. I settled straight in and got started. The new characters were fresh and sympathetic, with plenty of rounded flaws – a headman without the leadership skills needed, a heroine too young to see where her actions might take her. We get carried along, seeing what might unfold, knowing more than Starlight does, and yet we can’t stop her. We want her to be rewarded, to be right, to have her gut instinct of what’s right and wrong repaid; we fear it won’t be.

What Beckett does so well is build a society of myths and legends, and show us how they’ve unfolded. He takes our knowledge from book one and twists it, demonstrating how truth gets lost. He also asks questions about roles in society, reversion, and how we allow ourselves to be carried along with the crowd.

If I have a criticism, at the beginning the number of point of views, and the shortness of each, made it a little hard to follow who was who and keep them separate from each other. However, as the story progressed, this became less of an issue.

On balance, it’s a sequel that lived up to book one, which is always a delight in itself, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.