Book Review: The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (August 18, 2020)
Length: 470 pages
Let me just start by saying that I don’t think Adrian Tchaikovsky is actually capable of writing a bad book, but some are definitely better than others. When it comes to The Doors of Eden, I would probably place it somewhere in the middle as I quite enjoyed it, but I also didn’t think it was his best. Once again, we may have high expectations to blame here.
The Doors of Eden is told through multiple perspectives which are all kind of jumbled and layered on top of each other, because this is a novel involving parallel worlds and alternate timelines. We begin with childhood-friends-turned-lovers Lee and Mal, two young women who’d bonded over a lifelong interest in cryptozoology, heading off into the Bodmin Moor to investigate rumors of a creature known as the Birdman. But something strange happened to them out there in the wilderness, something Lee knows she can’t explain without coming across like she’s completely lost her mind. All that mattered was that at the end of the day, only she emerged from the moorlands while Mal was gone, vanished without a trace.
Next, we meet M15 agent Julian Sabreur, who in his more private moments likes to compare himself to James Bond. He has been placed in charge of providing security and protection for government physicist Kay Amal Khan, a foul-mouthed chain-smoking trans woman who has become the target of a racist hate group. But when the attack comes, it is not Julian’s team who ends up stopping it. While no one actually witnessed the massacre, the attackers appeared to have been ripped apart by someone or something very big and very strong, judging by the grisly bloodbath left behind in Dr. Khan’s living room.
Tasked with finding out what happened, Julian finds himself going down a rabbit hole of conspiracy, mystery, and the unexplained. Meanwhile, it has been four years since Mal’s disappearance, but the grief has not abated for Lee. Incredibly, one day she gets a phone call from Mal, who simply tells her she wants to meet—like she hasn’t been gone this entire time. Even more confounding is when Lee finally does see Mal again, her girlfriend does not appear to be the same person. Everything eventually comes to a head as Julian shows up on Lee’s doorstep, led there by a grainy image taken of a woman who was believed to be dead.
First off, I’m a big fan of sci-fi stories about alternate universes and parallel worlds. I love the endless possibilities they offer, and the mind-warping questions they always seem to leave behind. But on the flip side, these kinds of books often have a lot going on in them, and sometimes, the intricate web of plotlines and character lives can get a tad overwhelming. Tchaikovsky did a great job organizing multiple threads and streamlining the overall narrative, but I think even he stumbled at times and lost control of the story because it occasionally felt like things got away from him. This was especially the case as we delved further into the middle sections of the book, where the storytelling didn’t feel as tightly plotted or well-paced.
Case in point, I knew something was up when I realized I found more pleasure in reading the interludes from the point of view of Professor Ruth Emerson discussing the evolutionary trajectory of various alternate Earths and what they might look like. I mean, granted I’m a biology nerd, but also, the truth is, for most of the book, I just didn’t find the main storyline or any of the main POVs to be all that interesting. In focusing his attention on developing the science and the world-building, it almost felt as if the author neglected to develop his characters with the same amount of care and detail. For a long time, they were mostly defined by their diversity labels, and only later on did the deeper aspects of character-building come in, like personality, interests, and values. Perhaps that was why I never really felt too connected or sympathetic towards the characters.
Still, The Doors of Eden was by no means a bad book—it kept me turning the pages, after all. That said, I thought it could have been better—more entertaining and engaging at least, if the characters had been better developed right off the bat, and if the pacing had been a bit more even. Admittedly, I also expected a lot going into this novel, so that might have played a part in how I ultimately felt too. But is the disappointment going to make me any less excited to read the author’s books after this? Heck no. Like I said, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good read whenever you pick up something by Adrian Tchaikovsky, especially if you enjoy original and clever ideas in SFF. Children of Time remains my go-to recommendation when it comes to his work, but if the sound of The Doors of Eden captures your interest, I would check it out.