Book Review - The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber
Updated: May 9, 2018
Not exactly horror...but a cool supernatural romp through England in the late 1800's.
Well, this book certainly up and surprised me. From the synopsis, I expected a smaller scale novel, with a couple of quirky characters to keep track of, a little bit of action and a little bit of Victorian exposition, topped off by a quaint little supernatural mystery and maybe some scary shenanigans that got wrapped up nicely in the end. And yeah, I really didn’t get any of those things. Not that those things aren't in there, as they are, just not in the expected way. It’s funny, because once I realized that I wasn’t getting quite what I initially thought I’d be getting, I nearly stopped reading The Eterna Files. I kinda had my mind set on a certain kind of tale, and had thoroughly expected this book fit nicely within that niche. No such luck here. But the tale was engrossing enough, and the characters nuanced enough, that I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did, my pre-conceived notions notwithstanding.
Because, as I realized pretty soon after starting it, that this is a novel that defies many of the established genre conventions. So many times in novels dealing with the supernatural and the scientific, everything is already mapped out. The rules are firmly in place, and at least one of the characters is a “master” in the field (whichever field that happens to be), world weary and reluctantly all-knowing. Refreshingly, not a single character in The Eterna Files falls into that stereotype. There is a surprisingly large roster of main and supporting characters, and not a single one of them knows it all, or even pretends to. Everyone in this book is fallible (even the villains, gasp!), and there is a constant sense that people are learning things they didn’t know, and trying to take what they have learned and fit it into their established pools of knowledge, with varying levels of success. It’s a small, but welcome change, and something that helps ground the tale. While the fantastical notion of immortality is the crux of the plot, the daily dealings and experiments in search of eternal life are handled in a matter-of-fact manner and nearly mundane manner.
As for those non-stereotypical characters, each one has their own reasons for being involved with the search for immortality. For some it’s personal, for others it’s business, but each one offers a unique viewpoint. The three main characters carry the story well, but we get many other viewpoints as well, from a rather large rotating cast of supporting characters. In fact, the stable just kept growing and growing, though it never got to the point where I was confusing one character for another. However, it must be said that there really are no “normal” characters to be found in The Eterna Files. Nearly each and every person, from main character to bit player, has a quirk, nuance, or special talent that sets them apart. That’s the part that did get a bit confusing, for me at least, as I couldn’t always recall who could do what, and in what circumstance. On the flipside though, most authors would have taken all those various abilities and talents and just thrown them into one or two “super” characters, so kudos to Leanna Hieber for NOT going that well-worn route.
One thing that’s not confusing is how well written this book is. There’s a lot going on here, but it’s all written in prose that is very detailed, but also flows very smoothly. In lesser hands, this would have been an unwieldy tale. But I never once had to go back and reread a passage to make better sense of it. And with all the supernatural events, multitude of characters, and the constantly changing locations, that’s no small feat. On a side-note, I certainly learned a bit about Victorian fashion during this read, as each character’s attire is detailed nearly as much as their physical traits.
Also on the character front are the relationships. Some of them are firmly established as the tale starts, others develop over time, but none of them felt forced or in service of some plot point. Intentions get confused, respect is earned over time (not instantly like in many novels), and some personalities just don’t mix. Everything unfolds slowly and realistically.
I really only have two gripes about this book. First, though it’s not really advertised as such, this is the first book in a MUCH larger tale. There’s a lot of buildup and world building, and then it just…ends. On a cliffhanger, sure, but it’s still rather sudden and unexpected. And though we get introduced to a whole slew of characters, and a lot of theory and supposition are bandied back and forth, not a lot ACTUALLY happens. We get a couple of confrontations, a villain with a (mostly unrevealed) master plan, and a few resolutions to some significant plot threads, but it all feels kinda…insignificant. Once I had finished the book, it really felt (to me anyways) like a whole novel’s worth of groundwork and exposition, in prep for the larger tale yet to come. As such, everything that takes place here feels almost anti-climactic, and slightly unnecessary.
My other gripe is that, due to the large cast of characters and numerous locales, the story does jump around quite a bit, and can feel a little too…busy and unfocused. Again, the groundwork is being laid, and all the pieces are being moved into place, so I guess it’s a necessary evil.
I am interested to see where this tale is headed, so I will likely pick up the next novel when it’s released. I hope that the next book is a little more tightly plotted and focused, but I enjoyed my time spent in this alternate Victorian world, and would like to see what becomes of these quirky characters and their quest for the Fountain of Yo…I mean the Eterna Compound.
3 out of 5 gentlemanly and ladylike stars!