Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publication date: September 22, 2020
One Sentence Summary: There are multiple versions of Earth out there, but they’re all starting to splinter into each other, and it’s up to a strange assortment of humans, humanoid creatures, and rats to fix it.
The Plot: A Dizzying Assortment of Edens
Best friends and lovers Lisa “Lee” Pryor and Elsinor “Mal” Mallory are monster hunters (think the Yeti). They don’t seek to find proof of strange creatures, but instead dream of being the ones to capture the blurry photo. Until they end up on Bodmin Moor, on the other side of a doorway. Only one girl comes back.
Years later, the brilliant Dr. Kay Amal Khan is virtually kept under lock and key by Her Majesty’s Government, but that doesn’t stop the mysterious Daniel Rove’s men and some seriously foreign individuals, including Mal, from trying to extract her for their own uses. Mal can’t stop herself from contacting her friend, but, as much as she tries to warn Lee, it’s inevitable that The Girl Who Came Back is about to tumble back into parallel worlds she can’t even comprehend.
In a dizzying maze of worlds with an incredibly strange and diverse set of companions, Lee finds herself running in and out of trouble, but at least her best friend is at her side again. They have a bigger problem, though: whatever created all the parallels is collapsing and the seriously foreign individuals are assembling a team to solve the problem, all while Rove is at their heels.
With parallels drawn to Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, it’s impossible to not think of a crazy maze in and out of reality, where things are and are not as they seem, where the impossible is indeed possible, where what cannot exist does. I loved the exploration of multiple Earths, each branched off from different points in time and left to its own devices. The Doors of Eden is such a massive story because of it, but really boils down to the boundaries between each offshoot breaking down and needing to be fixed. Simple, but so complicated because it deals with foreign (really foreign) creatures, dodging in and out of parallels, and trying to stay one step ahead of the ever-calculating Daniel Rove.
This is an amazing massive story that somehow rests quite comfortably on the single point of: what if the world is collapsing? The reader is drawn across our own London, dodging human and non-human pursuers, and somehow leaping into other parallels. There are so many threads, so many characters with their own motivations and story lines that somehow tie the whole story together. It was almost too much for my mind to make sense of. But then it narrowed, became focused, with the single question of how to save every iteration of Earth. While I often felt like I was swimming out to sea, I managed to take comfort in the fact that most of the human characters also had no clue what was going on. It made it so much easier to figure things out as they figured them out. What could have been a completely overwhelming story somehow managed to keep its focus and never, ever forget what it revolved around, which made it easier to focus my reading mind. Most of the time.
The Characters: An Incredible Set of Main Characters
The Doors of Eden has so many characters, but I still somehow wish there had been more. Kind of a head scratching idea, but, with so many worlds introduced, I really wanted to meet creatures from all of them. Friends Lee and Mal, government agents Julian and Alison, the devious Mr. Rove and his man Lucas, Dr. Khan, the Nissa, and the rats did a great job of shouldering the story, though.
The roles the characters played was the most fascinating thing. Usually I find it easy to pick out the main protagonist, as well as the antagonist, but something about how The Doors of Eden was written made that seem irrelevant. Most of the characters shouldered the weight equally, telling different parts of the story to sew it neatly up into a single massive story. Every time I thought I had pinpointed the main character, there was a shift and I suddenly wasn’t so sure. I even had a hard time envisioning Rove as the clear antagonist because his motivations were so clear and his characterization was interesting.
Alison, though, felt like the lynch pin, the one the whole story revolved around even though she self-deprecatingly kept saying she wasn’t of much use to anyone. She felt like she’d been placed in the Alice role, the one tumbling down the rabbit hole, the one who was granted special access that was indispensable. Perhaps the one the reader is supposed to latch onto in order to even begin to understand what’s going on, to see the bigger picture.
But, if I had to pick favorites, I’d go with Lee and Mal. The story starts with them and they help get things spinning. But I love them because they were just so true to each other. Even after four years apart, they were still each others’ whole world and, when the world seemed to be collapsing, it feels like they were the only thing that made sense, that held it together. They’re an incredible couple and really brought a beautiful emotional undercurrent to this crazy story that had me spinning in so many directions.
The Setting: Earth, Earth, Earth, Earth, etc.
The Doors of Eden is set on Earth, but various iterations of Earth. This was masterfully set up, not so much in the descriptions as we tumbled into them along with the characters, but by the Interludes. Supposedly a book or manuscript written by Professor Ruth Emerson of the University of California discussing the possibility of multiple parallels, it takes every major era in Earth’s history and supposes how life could have evolved differently from what we know. While they initially seemed a bit dry and dusty, much like an academic tome, they quickly became utterly fascinating and, slowly, the different worlds came into focus. It became easier to see how these different parallels might have diverged and how it would have affected life if it had continued on to their present. As the story itself wound it’s way to its conclusion, I became very excited to see some of the worlds that had been discussed in earlier Interludes, and my mind couldn’t work fast enough to make all the connections.
The Doors of Eden is an incredible novel. It’s a massive story with a lot to wade through, but it’s only as overwhelming as the reader lets it be. I, for one, had to pause once in a while to really gnaw over the information and story presented to me. It sometimes felt like it was going at a dizzying pace, but, at the same time, it wasn’t actually difficult to keep up with. It turned out to be a beautiful story of interconnectedness, though I would surely freak out if rats came out of thin air and started trying to talk to me. I adored the characters, every one of them, and how they took up the mantle of the story together to create something incredible. This is one book I’ll be thinking about for a long time, a story a part of me will always wonder if it could possibly be true. I mean, it does make a compelling argument…
Great if you enjoy: alternate/parallel universes; massive stories; strong characters; balance of character-driven and plot-driven; great relationships; something a little different
Not great if you’re looking for: simple and straightforward plots; cinematic stories; typical fantasy and science fiction; easy reads
How many cups of tea will you need?
5 cups, definitely
Get your copy (The Lily Cafe is NOT an Amazon affiliate)
Thank you to Angela Man at Orbit for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.