In Review: The Eterna Files

Interesting characters and premise with frustrating results.

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Published by Tor, February 10, 2015 (hardcover), 320 pages at $24.99 and February 2, 2016 (paperback) 320 pages at $7.99.

The cover: A simple, dark wooden chair sits upon a wooden floor. A blackbird is perched on one of the stiles, while a top hat is resting atop the other. The seat has a woman’s lacy white umbrella on it. All of these images hint to the book’s time period and create a magical mood with the two items on the chair’s uppermost regions. The book’s title is superimposed over the image, though the top hat has managed to place itself before it. A very clever image created by Trevillion Images and Getty Images, with the design by FORT. It was this cover that had me pick the book and look at the premise on the back. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover of the paperback, “In the time of Queen Victoria, Spiritualism is all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic. The American government secretly bankrolls Eterna: at attempt to make the country’s leaders immortal. On the brink of success, the research team is wiped out in a single, otherworldly stroke. Clara Templeton, who helped set Eterna in motion, is wracked with guilt over the deaths, unaware that the ghost of her secret lovers – one of the researchers – is desperate to communicate with her. In England, Queen Victoria asks Harold Spire, formerly of the Metropolitan Police, to recover the Eterna compound, which Her Majesty believes survived the disaster in Manhattan. Placed at the head of a team of psychics, assassins, and con artists, Spire is reluctant to stop investigating body snatching and child murder, but his Queen’s command cannot be ignored. The psychic forces of Great Britain and the United States are set on a collision course in this entertaining gaslamp fantasy by one of the genre’s brightest talents.” This is a really interesting premise: an immortal potion, psychics, ghosts, and a mystery that both sides of the Atlantic are working to solve. I’m really looking forward to reading this! Overall grade: A

The characters: As stated on the back cover, the two leads of the book are Clara Templeton and Harold Spire. Clara is mourning her lost love who has disappeared with the rest of the team that was working on Eterna. She has very strong moments as a woman who wants to be treated as equally as a man, and those moments when she speaks out about her situation, as well as those of her fellow women, are outstanding; however, the time period has other notions as how a woman is to be treated. Given the recent passing of her love, it’s understandable that she would be feeling so much emotional pain and guilt, but it kept her from being appealing or surprising since she didn’t do much. The characters around her were more interesting, especially Franklin Fordham. He, too, has supernatural abilities, and, like Clara, is not fully in control of himself when using them, but he had some character developments that were interesting; Clara doesn’t change by the end of this book. Much more interesting is what occurs on the other side of the Atlantic. Harold Spire is an ordinary policeman who is thrust into the lurid world of the supernatural by the order of the Queen. This is a common trope in books, but author Heiber makes him a fantastic stuffy man who is determined to do his best, for Queen and country, no what his feelings are. The characters that he’s surrounded with are amazing, with Rose Everhart and Lord Black being sensational. Those in England have incredibly backstories and their dialogue is fantastic. Whereas in America, things are incredibly sullen and gloomy. To have one half of the book be filled with such dynamic characters and the others so dreary leaves the reader wanting to abandon America for the joys of England. Some leniency can be given to those in the states, since this is only the first book in a series, but characters are much brighter in the U.K. Overall grade: B

The settings: The undercurrents of power ripple throughout every location in this book, though, like the characters, to differing degrees. America comes across neat and tidy, though when magic appears the settings become very dark. Visits to the building where the Eterna incident occurred are fairly horrific, as when one individual probes the setting. The way in which Hieber can twist a burnt out room into a horrific locale is impressive; she creates genuine horror with this turn. There’s a visit to a notorious American city that has a history of dark magic, and this location is equally outstanding. Across the ocean, an early setting is absolutely horrific with something that’s occurred in a basement. This, thankfully, changes to the building assigned to Spire and his compatriots as they seek to learn about Eterna. It’s a classically grand location, as are all the locations in Britain. I found myself wishing Hieber could spend more time having characters explore her settings, even if it would slow down the story. Overall grade: A

The action: The pacing of the book isn’t consistent. There are some very good scenes where characters discover or encounter something that gives the story some solid punches, but more times than not, the characters discuss information that’s learned elsewhere, or has already been revealed to the reader. This makes the high moments incredibly exciting, but the moments in between, which are the larger portions of the book, leaving me impatient. The plotline involving Mr. Dupris did not work. Overall grade: C

The conclusion: There isn’t one. Nothing is solved. There’s another book to continue this tale. If the characters had accomplished something, I would have a stronger desire to read the next book. Ending as this does, I’m left indifferent by this tale. Overall grade: C-

The final line: On its own, this is not a satisfying book because nothing is answered. This is laying the framework for future books in this series, and that’s fine, if something is given to the reader that shows the characters are accomplishing something. That’s not in this book. I found the characters and premise interesting, but their actions frustrating. I don’t know if I’ll read the sequel. Overall grade: C+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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