The Edge of Eden

Written by Helen Benedict
Review by Luan Gaines

The Edge of Eden is rich in contrasts: the Seychelles Islands and fog-shrouded London; well-to-do British colonists and the poverty of natives; religious faith and rampant superstition; and two little girls, one dark-skinned and impish, the other dimpled and blonde, curly-haired. Zara, eight, and Chloe, three, are the daughters of Rupert and Penelope Weston, arriving from England to the islands in 1960 for Rupert’s new assignment for the British government. Another contrast: Rupert is excited, Penelope resentful, homesick and filled with despair. Rupert embraces island life as his seductive native secretary embraces him, while Penelope loses days in a deep depression, falling into a foolish, short-lived affair and drinking too much. Meanwhile, Zara follows the servants, learning the secret spells of the bonhomme du bois, anxious to develop the power to cast away the “devil worm” that has overtaken her mother and return her straying father’s attentions to his family.

Benedict artfully captures it all: the painful history of slavery, French and British colonialism, and the deep superstitions of islanders to ward off the evil deeds of others. When a powerful spell is discovered in the Westons’ house, the cook disappears, and the nanny, Marguerite, becomes ever more concerned for the safety of the children and Zara’s unnatural predisposition for concocting spells of her own. As the islands—and his mistress—claim Rupert, Penelope awakens like Sleeping Beauty to find that her children are in danger. But it is too late: a price has been exacted, innocence forfeit, a family shattered and the spirits disturbed as one woman demands what another possesses. A lush Eden becomes a false paradise as fate claims its victim.