The Eternal City by Paula Morris
Published by Scholastic Press, May 26, 2015. Hardcover of 304 pages at $17.99. Intended for ages 12 and up, and grades 7 and up. Also available as an Ebook.
NOTE: I read an advanced copy, so any aspect of the novel may have changed by publication.
The cover: Walking toward an enormous fountain, which is surrounded be several crows, is a young girl in a red dress; this is obviously protagonist Laura Martin. The phrase “The past never really dies…” is above Laura’s head, while the title and author name are at the bottom of the image. This cover by Cliff Nielsen, with the jacket designed by Yaffa Jaskoll, introduces readers to the setting of Rome, the protagonist, and the odd imagery of a lot of crows. This captures several visuals of the book well. Overall grade: A-
The premise: From the inside front cover, “Laura Martin is visiting Rome on a class trip, and she’s entranced by the majestic sights. Everything in this city seems magical. That is, until the magic turns dark. Suddenly, statues of Cupid and ancient works of art come to life. Earthquakes rumble. A dark-eyed boy with wings on his heels appears and gives her a message. Laura realizes she is at the center of a battle between the gods and goddesses, one that will shake modern-day Rome to its core. Only she and her group of friends can unravel this mystery behind this battle. As tensions mount and secret identities are revealed, Laura must rely on her own inner strength to prepare for what may be the fight of her life.” This seems to have a bit of Percy Jackson fantasy told from a female protagonist’s point of view. I enjoy stories with ancient gods on earth, so I’m looking forward to this. Overall grade: A
The characters: Laura Martin is a high school sophomore, junior in the fall, who’s spent the entire year saving to get to Italy on her school’s summer Classics Trip. She’s very knowledgeable about the history of the country, and has been looking forward to Rome. She hasn’t made any friends on the trip, but she doesn’t care, she’s enjoyed herself so far. Once things start to go wonky, she keeps her knowledge to herself, rather than tell someone about the moving statues or the crows that seem to be following her. She is a realistic character, as I can imagine a sixteen year old not wanting to tell someone something that would make them think she’s crazy. Once she realizes that what she’s been seeing is true, she’s focused on a goal, but not in a superhuman way; she doesn’t become an expert fighter or mental whiz–she’s firmly grounded in the reality of a girl her age, and that may be why I found her very uninteresting. She was a “normal” child with no traits that made her special. Dan Sinclair is a rich kid that she thinks is cute, but has no interest in her. As the book progresses his character changes the most, though he became a liability twice in the story. He is also typical for boys of his age, easy to anger and to become jealous, so he has the most room to grow. “Mysterious” Maia is a know-it-all from Russia, now living in the U.S. and on the trip, and she never hesitates to point out how she knows more than others. Two late additions to the gang are Sofie, from Germany, and Kasper, from Denmark. After a few chapters it’s fairly easy to guess whom they are. The antagonists are any creatures or seagulls that attack the group, sent by rival gods. Stone statuary are the greatest adversaries, though they occur late in the book. There are also several earthquakes that come at timely moments. Each threat wasn’t really strong until the book’s final confrontation, and even then they’re not really much of a concern. The characters are too close to reality for me to enjoy in this fantasy novel. Overall grade: B-
The settings: The book reads like a tour of Italy, and actually made me wish I was visiting there soon. However, not much time is spent in detail at any one famous location, because the students have to go back to their hostel to recuperate from whatever troubles they’ve encountered. Instead, generic ruins, local businesses, streets, and piazzas are the norm. They’re given rudimentary descriptions to move the story forward. Longer stops at more historical locations would have been more enjoyable. Overall grade: C
The action: This was dreadful. The inside cover promises more action than there actually is. It’s not until Chapter 8 that a supernatural event occurs that others witness beside Laura. Then the action stops, goes back to the hostel (I groaned each time they went back), and more intrigue with birds occurs, and then off to a fountain, and then the finale. This started and stopped too often to produce anything besides frustration. Overall grade: D+
The conclusion: There is an ending, with seeds of a sequel perhaps, but the plot concludes solidly. The final battle came off as silly rather than thrilling, and the characters’ leavings just “meh.” Since the concluding confrontation was unexciting, the ending left me uncaring. Overall grade: C
The final line: It takes over 100 pages for the story to begin, and then it starts and stops painfully. It was laborious to get through this book. I don’t know how this would entertain any children, save those interested in ancient history. Overall grade: C