Review of Eden’s Gate: The Reborn (Book One)
Eden’s Gate: The Reborn (Book 1) by Edward Brody. I do my best to keep these reviews spoiler-free. The worst you’ll find here is a mild hint. My reason for writing “reviews” the way I do is very specific. Anyone curious can find more information in my official Review Policy post.
Recap & Brief Synopsis
Gunnar Long was looking forward to the latest in immersive VR experiences. A cutting-edge MMORPG that would let him escape the daily grind. To help him unwind, he and his girlfriend decided to be some of the first players to explore the game when it first launched.
Eden’s Gate opened to the public. Then something went terribly wrong. Players around the globe start flat-lining, dying in the middle of their gaming experience without warning. Thousands of lives were snuffed out in an instant… and none of them knew it.
For Gunnar, the Eden’s Gate experience was stunning. Could there be a VR simulation that was too real? Then the game’s creator announced that everyone inside was now a permanent resident. Their old lives had ended, and they could never go back. They were trapped. Forever.
Now, Eden’s Gate is at the top of everyone’s mind both in real-life and the virtual world. To enter the “game” means you leave your physical body behind forever. Someone has to go inside and send a message back out… or the servers will be shut down, and the players lost forever.
Premise & Concept
The echoes of Sword Art Online ring through the early pages of this book. Like a megalomaniacal developer that wants to populate his world with real people. Players getting stuck in a game where the stakes have risen to life and death. The story covers familiar territory.
Where it begins to diverge is in the execution. Brody does an excellent job taking you inside Gunnar’s world. The perspective is driven home as the protagonist interacts with non-player characters (NPC’s). It’s as if they’re truly meeting an immortal. A deity newly born to their world.
For me, Gunnar’s introduction and the search for Rachel took a back seat to watching how the game reacted to its new inhabitants. There is lore built into their code, but most seem to dismiss the possibility of “The Reborn” as a myth or a story for children.
The author also leaves quite a few of loose threads for you to follow into the next book. There are no overpowered heroes that master the mechanics of their new world in 300 pages. You’re watching a newly-risen, blue-collar immortal that’s constantly trying to find his footing.
Themes & Motif
You get a lot of the standard LitRPG themes in this text. Things like Companionship as Salvation, Displacement, and Self-Awareness… and the most striking part is when you realize that the author of Eden’s Gate has created a sovereign totalitarian nation.
No matter how the story ends, the implications for a similar scenario happening in our world is powerful stuff. Do we apply Human Rights to virtual citizens? Is it genocide if the servers for Eden’s Gate get switched off entirely? Are the players now considered the first real AI?
Unlike other LitRPG stories, Brody has done a phenomenal job giving us a glimpse at what the future might hold for full-immersion VR. These are issues that will spark philosophical debates centuries from now. That kind of near-future plausibility gives the story plenty of room to grow.
I could easily see outrigger novels about a coup attempt by a covert agency. An actual “ghost” company that has to die to complete their mission. Players that reach the level cap and start wondering why their creator has any say in what they can do. They’re gods after all.
Structure & Plot
Eden’s Gate couldn’t be more of a quest if you added a golden fleece as the MacGuffin. There’s something spectacular about a book that knows exactly what story it wants to tell. Even if that story is one of the most tried and true structures that exist.
We’ve all heard the tale of the artist that used a perfect free-hand circle to demonstrate his drawing skill. That’s the sensibility I get from Brody’s work. It’s just enough to let you know that he’s a true professional and nothing more. Only the bare essentials.
As long as we’re talking about circles, it’s a good time to mention that there are some solid bits of foreshadowing in this book. Things that you might otherwise rush over thinking that they will never be revisited. Don’t. You’ll thank me later.
Blink, and you’ll miss three chapters of this novel. Maybe it’s how often the text is broken up by the stat progression, system alerts, and character dialogue. In any case, this book may not be the easiest for newcomers to the genre. The story skews in favor of the veteran.
Character & Dialogue
After reading quite a few LitRPG stories, it seems that first-person, past tense is the order of the day. It’s almost not worth mentioning anymore. I’ll give it another book or two and see where we land. Not that I mind. Brody’s tone reminds me of Afterlife Online by Domino Finn.
When I talked about the game’s reaction to the new players, it’s the NPC’s that bring the story to life. In Eden’s Gate, the world is deeper and richer than your average MMO because to the inhabitants living there… it isn’t a game at all. It’s their home.
So when you see characters that say one thing and do another… or do one thing, then do another when they’re under pressure. That’s when it becomes apparent. Digital or not, the people in the story are all multi-dimensional. Each has goals and desires. History and secrets.
Thankfully, Brody doesn’t overwhelm you with their lineage and backstory (like some other epic fantasy writers we know). If anything, you feel as if Gunnar and other players are intruding on the otherwise peaceful existence of these people. Who only want things back to normal.
Setting & Worldbuilding
Combine an Ewok and a Mogwai and what do you get? The Keemu forest guardians from Eden’s Gate, that’s what. At least, that’s how I imagined them in my head. Either way, it was refreshing to see a mob that wasn’t hostile in a LitRPG story. Sort of.
Ok, so they might sound a little like Jar Jar Binks. I’m giving Brody some credit and calling that tongue-in-cheek humor. The real point is that we have friendlies on the map that aren’t intelligent enough to be a companion or large enough to be a mount. Points for variety.
In most other ways, Eden’s Gate is a standard Tolkein-esque high fantasy setting. Elves, dwarves, orcs, etc. Magic bolts are hurled, arrows loosed, and swords swung (swinged?). Mostly by people other than the main character because he’s got a steep learning curve.
The part that shines in this author’s worldbuilding is his attention to detail. All of the items have durability and weight… in kilograms! The book feels like he wrote the story to frame a fully-functional tabletop RPG system. A prime example is the quest in chapter 7. Classic.
Market Fit & Positioning
While I haven’t read the later installments (yet), the author is using a date stamp as a chapter header. In theory, that later volumes take place after the recorded date of inception… labeled 01 / 01 / 0001. It’s both a clever way to demonstrate time skips and a great hook.
There’s more than a few pop culture references to add a bit of levity. Not to mention the snarky system messages that make you laugh each time Gunnar makes progress. Some are simple fortune-cookie wisdom, while others are direct jabs at the protagonist’s expense.
Everything about Eden’s Gate reminded me of the old Quest for Glory series from Sierra. If you aren’t familiar with early PC games, that’s a compliment of the highest order. Original copies are collector’s items. Much like Brody’s work, those titles were a perfect gateway into the genre.
This story reads and feels like a transcript from a tabletop session. If there were a line between “soft” LitRPG (game mechanics as accents) and “hard” LitRPG (game mechanics as the story), Eden’s Gate would dance the razor’s edge. There is enough to please both camps.
Recommendations & Invitation for Feedback
Liberty from ratings or death! I’m not about to hold an arbitrary yardstick up to a book. There’s plenty of that on Amazon or Goodreads. My reviews are here to tell you what I think is working in new books that appear on the market. If it’s broken, I just don’t write about it.
Eden’s Gate achieves Balance +6, Nostalgia +9, and Accuracy +1. I took my time with this one. Maybe it was the Fantasy Adventure game feel. That sense that there was more to explore, or that I might have to replay it for a different ending. Thankfully, KU doesn’t charge by the page.
If you enjoyed Maleficent, anything Dragonlance, or Quest for Glory, then Eden’s Gate is for you. Recommended for a budding Game Masters as a primer on storytelling or a player companion guide between tabletop sessions. Ideal for those curious about D&D.
That’s it for me. I’m passing the dice cup to you. Whenever I see a list of LitRPG “starter” books, Eden’s Gate is on it. How would you have handled the “scroll” quest? What about that “thing” in the cave? How about Aaron’s arrival? Tell us all the things.