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Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

BOTTOM LINE: Mediocre but that didn’t stop me from devouring it.

Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Publication Date: 6 June 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?”

My Thoughts: Dividing Eden, the latest series by Joelle Charbonneau, explores the bonds of loyalty and family during a time of crisis. The premise of pitting brother against sister in the ultimate battle for power is both familiar and unique as it draws on elements of other popular YA series without being the same as any of them. While it is not the strongest example of fantasy YA out there, it proves to be an entertaining read easily devoured.

Told from the points of view of both sibling, one gets a fuller picture of the politics of Eden. The intrigue is fairly obvious, and there are several revelations that readers will be able to see coming miles away. Yet, it is easy to get caught up in Carys’ and Andreus’ stories. They are both highly flawed individuals with weaknesses that only the other knows. Watching their close-knit relationship fracture and crumble is mesmerizing if only because it does not have to happen. As is so often the case in novels about relationships, a candid talk would go a long way to dispelling ill will and suspicions, but the intrigue surrounding both characters is too great to allow that. It is a compelling display of human frailty as nothing more than jealousy so easily fractures the tightest of relationships.

Whether this is Ms. Charbonneau’s intent or not, it is a bit too easy to take sides in Dividing Eden. Carys seems to be the character who sacrifices the most and is the most selfless in a world that does not reward selflessness. The emotional and physical pounding she takes makes her the more sympathetic figure. However, there is a lack of world-building that prevents you from seeing the full picture, thereby unable to see Carys’ place in Eden and its realms. Whether she will continue to be the more sympathetic character remains to be seen.

The lack of world-building causes other problems as well. Readers will find it difficult to get a good grasp on Eden, what it is like as a country, or as a land. There are references to previous factions fighting and the overthrow of one family for another but no specifics to flesh out the world in which Carys and Andreus must battle. There is mention of other realms that have come to pay homage to the ruling family of Eden but no details to help with a geographic map or a hierarchy. There is also not much in the way of explanation of the caste system in which Eden seems to exist. Add to that the mysterious beasts that only attack in the dark during winter plus the fact that there exists wind turbine technology to generate electricity but very little machinery to make lives easier. It is as if Eden is a feudal town with only the perks of electric light. The lack of details makes Eden a bit too fuzzy to be able to understand the magnitude of certain events when it is clear readers should be shocked or amazed at those very events. One can only hope there is more world-building in the second novel to help clarify certain plot points and mysteries.

Again though, in spite of its failings, Dividing Eden is entertaining. Carys is a formidable character with talents equal to that of anyone else we meet. Her self-deprecation appears genuine, as does her total shock at her rapidly-deteriorating relationship with her brother. The focus on the seven virtues and the hang-up on light versus dark is creepy and ominous even while one recognizes the importance of light in this odd world. While I was missing an origin story – Eden’s existence, the other realms, the war that takes away her father and brother – I found myself setting aside my questions and focusing instead on Carys’ search for her own answers. Her ability to read a situation combined with her shameless and honorable intentions to protect her brother provide heart and light to a murky scenario, while the ambiguous ending leaves you anticipating the rest of the story. Books do not have to be perfect to be enjoyable, and Dividing Eden is a great example of that.

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