If one were to take the Chronicles of Narnia (take your pick which one), Alice in Wonderland, and then add in a dash of Stephen King, and put the whole thing in a blender, you’d come close to having Eden At the Edge of Midnight, the first book in John Kerry’s Vara Chronicles. Giant mushrooms, pink stegosaurus-like mammals, a roiling purple sky, carnivorous rhinos, and even more bizarre things await Sammy Ellis, the luckless and unpopular English protagonist who only wants her often-drunk, harsh father to recognize her for the soccer (foothball) genius she is. Instead, a bracelet catapults Sammy into Vara, where people have no idea what grass is, make furniture out of fungus, and where magic exists.
This book is a real page-turner. Past the first few rather interesting chapters, once Sammy lands in Vara it’s almost like the book reads itself. It’s chock full of an interesting backstory, the shattering history of the various secret societies, cities, and the order of the magi are all keeping secrets and trying to stay alive.
Of the three main characters, perhaps Hami is my favorite. You’re obviously supposed to root for Mehrak, and he’s the harmless, hapless and well-meaning comedy in the book, but Hami is the lone wolf with possibly dark secrets. All three are written well, and the dialogue serves to separate out characters fairly well.
Eden’s also got action sequences (handled well), full on army battles (mostly these go on offstage, but that’s okay) some creepy, thrilling portions with some kind of mysterious monster we should probably see more of in the second book, and all of these are written with great skill.
What’s most admirable about the book is the author’s ability to fully envision a three hundred sixty view of a completely alien world. Vara not only has cool creatures (lava pterodactyls, nice) and interesting locations (Honton Keep is great), but under the author’s watch they come to vivid life.
At about the eighty five percent mark, you begin to wonder ‘Okay, great, so far the book is really good, but it’s not going to end off at a cliffhanger, is it? The author wouldn’t do that to me… well, some authors would do that to me. Crud.’ Rest assured, the book does finally resolve itself, though the epilogue (and unanswered questions from the remainder of the book) leave a door standing open to the future of the series.
There are a couple of places where the book falters, however. The first is the propensity of the author to repeat sentences similar to ‘He turned away and said nothing.’ or ‘He just looked at her and didn’t speak.’ These mostly started to get to me in the middle of the book, where loyalties and motives begin to get questioned.
Second, there are a number of places and terms in the world of Vara that aren’t explained. My two hangups were The Fifth Azaran and Ahriman, which appear to have a lot of meaning to the author, but for which we receive no backstory. Are there four other Azarans? The reader has no idea. No lore is provided, not even a casual mention of the function of these things, which actually become very, very important later in the book.
Third, this book is categorized under children’s fiction, and parents need to take note here: this is, at best, a high level young adult book. There is swearing, there is alcohol use, and while generally these are not part of the YA canon, sometimes they slip in there. Both, in this case, serve the purpose of characterizing an important person in the novel, but neither are handled with the sort of delicacy one would expect of YA (the function would be to teach a lesson about why these things aren’t acceptable, or why people do them when they shouldn’t). While the instances of swearing and drinking are minimal, they are not in the slightest bit subtle.
Overall, AIA lists four stars as material you would find in a bookstore as published by a mainstream publisher. I believe this book stands on the very edge of that rating and the three star rating: books we at AIA recommend readers to buy, but which wouldn’t make the editorial cut at a publishing house. I’m awarding four stars because the writing was done very well, and the flaws were fairly minor, but parents are warned that this is much more an adult than a YA book.
Thank you for the read, Mr. Kerry.