Edward Eden is the eldest son but unable to inherit the title since he’s illegitimate, but instead his father Thomas left him everything else – the lands, the castle and all that money. Edward lives what appears to be a dissipated life in London, but to the poorer residents of London he’s known as The Prince of Eden for all he’s done to help them. Edward pours much of his great fortune into a Ragged School in his London home, much to the ire of younger brother James who would like nothing better than to wrest away the money he feels rightfully belongs to him. At Eden castle, Edward’s mother is now a lonely widow, estranged from her children and paying a very high price for loving her husband too much and leaving them to be raised by the conniving (and incestuous!) Cranford siblings.

Upon the death of a very dear friend, a grief-stricken Edward accepts a carriage ride from a stranger, along with the offer to drown his sorrows in a bottle of opium and well…another opium eater is born.

“Laudanum,” De Quincey said softly. “The only passage a man needs to get from here to Heaven. Will you be so kind as to accompany me, Mr. Eden?”

During a visit to Eden Castle, Edward falls hard for his brother’s betrothed, Harriet Powels, and they spend an afternoon of passion in the glen (which brings unforeseen consequences on future generations). Harriet knows her duty, and that is a duty that breaks Edward’s heart and sends him back to the opium dens.

“Five days and nights of tranquil oblivion, floating out of touch with reality on the wings of opium, had been sufficient to dull the memory of what he had found in the dungeon cell of Newgate. It had not been enough to obliterate it. He doubted if there was enough opium in all of India to accomplish that.”

That is a very bare bones summary of the beginning of this book and you don’t want to know more before going in, just kick back and enjoy the ride because it is a seriously bumpy one. There are unexpected twists and turns on every page with treacherous servants, thieving lawyers, opium dens, a night in Newgate prison, a secret birth, a missing infant, all heavily peppered with appearances from real historical characters and events (even the Brontës). Top that off with some of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve come across in a long, long time, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for an unputdownable book. I warn you – do not read the last 100 or so pages on a plane, train, bus or in any other public place – you will need that box of tissue handy. I haven’t cried like that since you-know-who died in Penman’s The Reckoning. I am still sucker punched 24 hours later and no idea when I’ll recover from it.

Fans of big old family sagas with plenty of angst and drama should feel right at home. Those readers liking their fiction on the lighter side with sugar coated heroes and heroines getting that picture perfect HEA should look elsewhere. The series,

This Other Eden

The Prince of Eden

The Eden Passion

The Women of Eden

Eden Rising

American Eden

Eden and Honor