The year is 1911. In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal – with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all. Near Cracked Wheel, Montana, a terrible illness leaves Jason Thistledown an orphan, stranded in his dead mother’s cabin until the spring thaw shows him the true meaning of devastation – and the barest thread of hope. At the edge of the utopian mill town of Eliada, Idaho, Doctor Andrew Waggoner faces a Klansman’s noose and glimpses wonder in the twisting face of the patient known only as Mister Juke.
And deep in a mountain lake overlooking that town, something stirs, and thinks, in its way: Things are looking up.
Eutopia follows Jason and Andrew as together and alone, they delve into the secrets of Eliada – industrialist Garrison Harper’s attempt to incubate a perfect community on the edge of the dark woods and mountains of northern Idaho. What they find reveals the true, terrible cost of perfection – the cruelty of the surgeon’s knife – the folly of the cull – and a monstrous pact with beings that use perfection as a weapon, and faith as a trap.
I think Eugenics, without any help or added extras, is a creepy subject to begin with; practice of it is a horror in itself. Human beings are usually influenced by their emotions and their belief systems, and I think Eugenics gives a human being too much capability, and excuse, to be a bigot. In my opinion, Eugenics can never be a practice without prejudice, and the idea of people in power practicing it is horrifying (Hitler is a great example of this). Eugenics is a great format to delve into issues of racism, ethics, morals, and belief systems, but the use of it as a horror story has been really well presented by Nickle. It’s been awhile since I have read a book at night time, which has left me feeling unsettled when I’m trying to go to sleep afterwards. Eutopia unsettled me whilst also wrapping me up in its story and having me enjoy it.
It’s set in the early 1900s when Eugenics was a favoured ideal at the time and I think the place and time is captured and conveyed really well via the way the characters interact and share their thoughts with us. And unlike other stories set in that time, it is not convoluted with the language of Victoriana. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Victorian settings and stories written and based in that time, but there are times when the language of it can come across as being a little too up itself and hard to digest. How easy it is to digest can have an impact on the pace of it. Eutopia, whilst still keeping in with Victorian language, isn’t overly verbose about it. I found this helped keep up the pace and suspense, a suspense that is sublte and smart, but not pretentious, in its delivery.
I love the fact that Eutopia uses two types of elements in this story, one brought about by nature, and one brought about by the ignorance of man. On one hand you’ve got this idea that is brought forth by human beings thinking they’re doing the world some good, always a recipe for disaster, but then it builds and deepens with the introduction of something equally, if not more, sinister going on behind the wings.
I also really enjoyed the writing style when it came to switching between characters. Eutopia is done in third person, but I felt that it was very easy to connect with the characters and understand their emotions just as much as reading from a first person point of view. I really do love the way the story was written, the author’s ability to paint a picture without going overboard, and the concept of two types of dystopians brought together to tell a chilling story. Because of this I’m keeping David Nickle on my radar and recommending this to anyone who appreciates a book not just for its story, but also for technique and style.