Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman (YA/Urban Fantasy Debut)
I had never heard of this novel – naturally as I do not follow YA/MG novels unless of course they are like hot-on-fire runaway international bestseller and probably has like five Hollywood studios fighting over movie rights ( The Hunger Games anyone? Or maybe…the Twilight saga?)
So this came out of the blue to me – as Michael reached out to me to check if I was interested in reviewing his debut YA/Urban Fantasy book titled “Crashing Eden” – the hook was, how would it be if we regained Paradise? I jumped for it. Two reasons:
a. a. This was going be my first foray into “Urban Fantasy” realm as I have not yet really been caught with that bug.
b. b.This was kind of like the first ARC Copy I was getting direct from an author.
A minor one, if not very instrumental, was Michael’s casual mention that the book also featured an “Indian” as a central character. It piqued my curiosity but I decided to play it professional and not get influenced by my origins (Ha! Ha!)
So here was the official blurb on “Crashing Eden”:
For one boy and his friends, the path to Paradise comes at a cost—one they may not be prepared to pay.
When a biking accident leaves 17-year-old Joss Kazdan with the ability to hear things others can't, reality as he knows it begins to unravel.
A world of legends exists beyond the ordinary life he's always known, and he is transported to the same Paradise he's studying in World Mythology. But the strange gets even stranger when his new friends build a device that delivers people through the gates of the Garden of Eden.
Now Samael, the Creator God, is furious. As Samael rains down his apocalyptic devastation on the ecstasy-seeking teens, Joss and his companions must find a way to appease Samael—or the world will be destroyed forever.
I had no idea what to expect as this was new territory for me. For the first 50-odd pages, it was easy light reading – getting dragged into the depths of this seething cauldron that is 17-year old Joss Kazdan’s troubled angst-ridden mind. The hurt, the anger and the frustration of a teenager misunderstood by the world and hell bent on the path to self destruction – is wonderfully wrought out by Michael’s easy flowing prose and I was slowly beginning to enjoy this ride.
The initial portions deals very authoritatively with the usual issues that teenagers deal with – love, confusion, guilt, devil-may-care attitude. To make things interesting, having chosen a first person narrative through Joss, we find him to be a shade darker than your normal teenager and as we dwell deeper we find the tons of issues he is grappling with in his daily life. I was waiting to be hit by an asteroid that might fuel things up and take me to the next level with the bike accident – as the blurb promised me that Joss starts to experience things a bit differently.
However the pace never picks up – the same easy going feel laps over into this section as well. I didn’t feel euphoric or any urgency as the life-changing event for Joss happened. The “ability to hear things others can’t” – this secret, I must admit, was very creatively chosen and nicely put forth that forms a central part to the entire plot. This ability puts him in touch with the “nicer” aspects of his life and he decides to spread the good cheer among his friends. All these made me feel I was watching a TV soap about college kids.
Michael builds up the mythology pretty nicely – the research shines through – and manages to seamlessly weave in motifs of religion and theology into the fabric of things. There is a lot of religious themes in the book and these parts are very smoothly done.
In terms of characters, Joss clearly stood out – as he is the tour de force in the entire book. The others clearly pale in comparison to this 17-year old who’s got issues larger than world peace and the environment to deal with in his mind. I was pleasantly surprised with the authentic feel to the Indian character, Shakti who befriends Joss and is instrumental in changing his life. There are a bunch of others, including Joss’s girlfriend, Alessa, his sister Callie, his parents, his school friends but these kind of remained in the shadows like cardboard effigies – with stereotyped dialogues and mannerisms.
The easy summer toy-train kind of pacing never picks up until the last couple of chapters. While initially the pacing works as it’s probably one of the lightest easiest reads I’ve done in ages, it backfired as I expected the conflicts to come in and turn the pace frantic. I was disappointed; however the author packs in an elegant closure to the conflicts built on some fantastical elements spiced up with religious themes that redeemed the book for me in the end.
I liked the ending and I rooted for Joss, the troubled kid at the centre of the universe. A YA-debut with its own set of flaws, especially with respect to plotting (some logical holes which I decided to overlook keeping in with the fact that the audience is the YA and they wouldn’t mind taking those leaps of faith to keep the coherence intact)but the high point is that it definitely transported me back to my teenage days – when I loved reading racy books with a teenage protagonist at the centre of saving our universe allowing us to live out our wildest dreams (including that of having attained perfection or paradise! ) And am sure this will strike the right chord with the YA audience.
A solid 3-star for the entertainment and for having given us a wonderful 17-year old protagonist, flawed and at the same time heroic.