My rating: Outstanding adventure! In absolutely every way.
This book is heartfelt, exciting, suspenseful, and poignant. About a young woman’s quest for the Tree of Life in a race against an evil corporation and time, it deals with bigger questions, about humanity, love and loss, acceptance and striving, hope, reconciliation, and redemption.
Chris, an under-appreciated, under-funded cryptobotanist, discovers her sense of purpose when the giant technical and scientific corporation, SinaCorp, invites her to participate in its second search for Eden. She blames SinaCorp for her mother’s death, and can’t let the company get its hands on the Tree of Life, to sell it at extortionate prices to the already powerful and wealthy. She drags a young assistant priest along on her quest, and it is their partnership that makes the book really shine. They travel the world, hunting clues, dodging assassination attempts and threats along the way, always half a step behind the well-funded SinaCorp extraction team. One of whose members is an old college friend of Chris’s. It’s complicated.
Luke decides to go along because he is disillusioned, and troubled in his faith. Also, Chris’s enthusiasm and determination draw him in like a magnet. He’s a bit morose, but funny, a good foil for Chris’s energy. Throughout the book, he sees her as a kind of optimistic tornado, impossible to resist and dangerously fascinating. Although almost polar opposites, with very different outlooks on life, they get along remarkably well, joking in the face of danger and dealing with quirks and moods. Throughout, the humor and witty banter made me laugh out loud. Though there are sad moments, too, as Luke and Chris deal with their memories and as SinaCorp makes its way across the playing field.
The characters are each flawed in various ways, but are realistically dynamic: their experiences change and shape them, giving them the chance to figure out what is really important to them in life. Opposed to the flawed and dynamic protagonists is the CEO of SinaCorp, who is ruthless, almost sociopathic, and determined at any cost to live forever. Some of the most surprising (and interesting characters) are the members of the SinaCorp extraction team.
Narration is extremely well done. Every character was interesting, and each had a very different worldview and attitude, which showed through in dialogue and in the different voices. I loved the switches of points of view, which brought to life each character’s take on a particular situation. Some of the best character development was done through one character’s insight into another.
With all that I’ve written above, it seems pretty clear that the characters were my favorite part about this book. But the plot also kept me turning page after page. The quest involves world travel, riddles, secrets, dangerous creatures and a terrifying underground ordeal. There are creepy moments involving nasty, frightening critters, scary near-death moments, tense and suspenseful encounters between the SinaCorp extraction team and Chris and Luke, and high-octane adventure.
It’s Indiana Jones, but better. Seriously.
Recommended for absolutely everyone – it is my favorite book this year and surely to remain in the top 10. (Yes, even though it’s still January!)
*eARC via NetGalley
The scientific investigation and large corporation, futuristic feel and focus on botany and plants reminded me strongly of Kage Baker’s The Company series. Start with In the Garden of Iden, in which Mendoza is a young botanist who has been plucked from Inquisition Spain and given immortality in order to save extinct species of plants. She goes back in time with her team to Elizabethan England to take DNA samples of a man’s garden.
Another story about a serious academic who sets off with a stranger to discover an ancient, magical secret, A Discovery of Witches has vampires, witches, and other supernatural creatures, but a heroine, plot, and scope that have similarities. Also, they both start with libraries. A Discovery of Witches was one of my absolute favorites in 2012.