Beyond The Garden

Beyond The Garden - S.Y. Thompson Imagine this book as the TV series "Once Upon a Time" but with characters from the Biblical Genesis instead of fairy tales. It uses story elements we are all familiar with (Garden of Eden, Yahweh, archangels, hellhounds, Adam and Eve) and spins a love story amidst an exciting and dangerous quest for mortality (it's not a typo, the MC wants to die...really!)

The book is about the very first woman ever created--Lilith. Just to be clear, she is not Eve, who is apparently the second woman ever created. I've never heard of this myth before, but it does exist in Jewish and Babylonian folklore, and Lilith seems to be a fairly popular creature in modern paranormal fiction (something I'm woefully unfamiliar with), albeit as some minor demon. So, until my confusion with Eve/Lilith was cleared up around the 50% mark, I thought the author re-imagined the Genesis story. Turns out that I'm the one who is under-informed. :)

The author has created a fascinating tale around the myth of Lilith, including a fairly credible backstory of why she is just a myth nowadays instead of being enshrined in the Bible like Eve. Not only is Lilith the first woman ever, she is also the oldest, as she still walks the earth to this day. Being banished from the garden of Eden for insubordination rather than eating the forbidden fruit has apparently allowed her to retain her immortality. What's wrong with that, you might ask? Well, it has to do with the fact that Lilith is also the very first feminist, having been kicked out for her refusal to submit to Adam. And sitting through millennia of mostly male-instigated cruelty to other humans has left her sick and tired of the human race. So she is in an ongoing quest to end her own life. Which has proven pretty elusive so far. In the meantime, she has acquired quite the arsenal of nifty tricks up her sleeve, and has found a calling on the side: empowering budding feminists everywhere. We first encounter Lilith in the middle of one of her interventions, where she accidentally crosses paths with Dana, who later joins Lilith on her quest to end her immortality.

Despite the dark themes, this is a surprisingly light read. I would have preferred the opposite actually, as there are so many aspects the author could have explored in the universe she created. But, this is essentially a romance. The mythology comprising the Lilith's backstory and the quest themselves are sufficiently detailed and engaging, but there are many other fascinating aspects brought up, all of which combined could have served as a solid foundation for a nice paranormal fantasy series. Some examples: Lilith's storied past, her space travels, her side-calling of empowering 'baby' feminists, her coterie of assistants, her animal familiar, how she did over the millennia, why Lilith is also known as a child-killer, the Haimia, etc, etc. All these elements are nice touches to the story and enrich the tale immensely, but imagine how awesome it would be if they were better realized instead of just given passing treatment or simply used as aids or hindrances to her quest.

Much better done is the relationship between Lilith and Dana. Although the romance starts up a little too abruptly, it gets a lot of development time as the couple embark on their quest. The conumdrum that Lilith faces--her quest for death vs a lifetime with Dana--the central conflict in the book, is perfectly done. I also really liked how the author reconciled Dana's scientific and logical belief system with what she was witnessing. Shades of the other famous Dana (Scully), perhaps? Best of all, I loved how she fit the various ancient Judaeo-Christian elements into her narrative, and how she subverted the male-dominant traditions into a pro-feminist slant.

I love these kinds of stories as they're rarely done well in lesfic, and would have gladly bumped up the rating but for some issues, aside from the one I mentioned above. Some of the action scenes are a little too derivative (like, straight out of Indy/Mummy/Abyss movies!). Some of the plot elements the author introduced raised more questions than answers. Some of the intriguing concepts she introduced were quickly forgotten, not expounded on, or too easily dismissed. And some of the moral issues, plus the ultimate resolution, are a little too pat and simplistic. But these are minor issues and should not deter those seeking a good lesfic romance that is a little more daring and different than the usual formula.

4.4 stars