Reviewed by Jody Uy
By Joelle Charbonneau
336 pp. Harper Teen.
Castles are symbols of power and nobility, standing tall as fortified representations of the kingdom, and necessitating rulers of noble blood. While we may have never been to a castle in real life, we have surely journeyed to these palaces thanks to Disney shows, series and movies situated in the medieval period, and countless books on royalty and the monarchy. While many of the fairytales we’ve come across tackle more romantic and whimsical aspects of the rule of kings and queens, Joelle Charbonneau focuses on the problem of succession and kingship. In her latest book, Dividing Eden, we get to know two candidates for the throne, their special relationship, and the brewing storm of deceit and greed that looms ahead for them and the entire kingdom to face.
Upon first receiving the book, I was slightly skeptical about it to be honest. Stories on competition for a coveted title and heirs to the crown abound in literature across all ages, so I was not entirely sure how Dividing Eden would provide new insights into a rather common topic. It also has been a while since I have read any YA novels, and so trying to see the book in the eyes of someone younger was something of a challenge. Nevertheless, the premise of the book piques a reader’s curiosity as it did mine, and had me wondering how it might end and what secrets there are to uncover about the kingdom (now cue furious reading and page-flipping).
Essentially, Dividing Eden is a story that looks into the relationship of two siblings, twins at birth in fact, who are torn by the struggle for power that exists within the castle of a troubled kingdom. After the untimely death of their father and older brother, who were king and heir respectively, the entire kingdom is thrown into a frenzy to seat a new ruler who would lead Eden to peace and prosperity.
From the very beginning of the novel, readers are plunged into the story at a point before the floodgates open and conflict comes rushing in—a dangerous winter is arriving, officials are revealing hidden agendas, wars are being fought, and all in all, Big Bad Trouble is brewing. At first, it can be difficult as a reader to take all of this in. The world constructed in Dividing Eden contains political structures and problems of its own, not to mention that mystical bit with wind, monsters, and magic to understand and digest. While I do think that the world-building at the beginning is important, it was rather difficult to take in all at once, feeling sort of like a house built in haste with all the materials delivered on the same day but not nearly enough workers and supervision to make sense of the actual construction. As the story progresses, however, the storytelling eases into a more comfortable even pace. Events still take place quickly one after the other, but are told more steadily through Carys and Andreus after the initial shower of information is unloaded.
The novel is propelled mainly by its central characters, Carys and Andreus, and the mystery shrouded around their birth. We see the story unfold in both points of view and come to understand their situation through their thoughts, actions, and reactions to the unfolding drama. The twins come off strongly and distinguish themselves easily from the rest of the cast of characters as their interests, decisions, and thought processes are well defined in the different chapters. That being said, I would like to see more from the surrounding characters. Elders in the novel that serve as part of a guiding council for the monarchs have a tendency to blur into one another, while the rest of the characters fall into stereotypes waiting to be broken or given more depth.
The story is not yet finished (something that both frustrated and excited me at the same time upon reaching the last page) and is set to be completed in succeeding books. Dividing Eden stands as a foundation for an even higher and more complicated castle to be carved on. There are many interesting ideas presented in the book itself that I hope are continued and further explored in the following installments. There’s the notion of free will and fate that plague Carys and Andreus from the very beginning of the novel, the wielding of magic against or alongside machinery that’s hinted at the end, and for the romantics out there who crave for love and complicated triangles, the promise of sparks and devotion as well. Perhaps most exciting in my opinion, is the growth of Carys, Andreus, and the rest of the cast as characters. This novel had the characters reacting to what was happening around them, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they will now choose to act given the power they come to wield by the end of the book. Whose allegiances will change? What decisions will they make? What will become of them?
While the world of Eden appears to be initially carved in a rough and rushed haste, there is much to look forward to and see refined in future books. There is a lot to build on that YA readers can appreciate and learn from—there is, after all, a castle that needs its ruler and cleaner carvings to still be made—both for reader’s closure and for Carys and Andreus themselves.
Dividing Eden is available at Fully Booked stores and Fully Booked Online.
Jody is currently an undergraduate student taking up Education and is discovering everyday the greatest bits about reading and learning that fuel our thinking. When she’s not drowning in readings for class, she drowns herself in music, books, and the wonders of the Internet.
Jody is a member of the First Look Club. You can find her on Instagram @ohfishness.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]