Sunday, February 1, 2015

REVIEW: The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Original Publication Year: 2015 (February 3)
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Yes but not named yet.
Awards: None
Format: eBook - Thanks to Tor Books for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book (via NetGalley).  My review reflects my honest opinion of and experience with the book and was not influenced by receiving the book for free from the publisher. 
Narrated by: NA

The Eterna Files tells the story of two secret government agencies, one in America and one in England, during the Victorian period.  They are both investigating the supernatural phenomena surrounding an attempt to achieve immortality through a mix of science and magic.  This pursuit of immortality was begun when Clara Templeton as a girl of 11 or 12, trying to comfort the recently bereaved Mary Todd Lincoln, suggests that great people such as Abraham Lincoln should never be subjected to death.  The quest for immortality begins there and has been under way for more than a decade on both sides of the pond, when things start to go horribly wrong and all of the scientists involved are mysteriously killed.

Unfortunately, The Eterna Files has a promising premise but this first book, in what promises to be a series, did not deliver on that promise.  It never really gelled for me and there was very little forward movement.  Overall, I felt like I was dropped into the middle of a complex Gothic setting and storyline and never really caught up or was able to be immersed in the story. 

Part of the problem was the scope and huge cast of characters.  Characters were still being introduced 30% into the book and I had a hard time connecting with any of them or even distinguishing who were the most important to the story.  Certainly Clara on the American side and then Spire and Rose Everhart in England.  However, each “agency” on either side also has a number of other crew members and a benefactor plus several ancillary characters and I was never really sure how important any of these folks was meant to be and in some cases how they fit in.   Even with the three main characters, I never really got an intimate sense of who they were despite the fact that they carry a good portion of the perspective voice.  The interactions and actions of the characters never felt entirely natural to me either and sometimes I was actively confused about a characters reaction to occurrences.  Rose was the one character I found intriguing. She decided on a career over the normal existence of a Victorian lady and has used a tragedy in her life to leverage a support position in the highest levels of the British government. 

As may be apparent the story is split into two narratives, one taking place in America and one in England with alternating chapters.  There is a hint of tenuous connection between the two storylines but it doesn’t come to fruition in this book and it often seemed like I was reading two separate books exacerbated by the lengthiness of the chapters.  This split also threw the pacing off and resulted in it taking longer than necessary to achieve any sort of forward momentum.  I started to get somewhat engaged in the stories around 40% in and stayed mildly engaged until the end when the book just petered out in the middle of a scene.  For this two pronged storyline to work I think it needed to be snappier with its pacing.

The book is relatively dark and Gothic and Hieber does a really good job describing the setting and producing a tangible atmosphere.  However, I was hoping for a sense of humor and a page turning supernatural mystery. It is described on Net Galley as a cross between the X Files and the Dresden Files, perhaps because they both have the word files in their name because I saw little other similarity.  That comparison gave me an inappropriate expectation about the tone of the book which is darker and much more humorless than either of those franchises.  I noticed that this comparison does not appear in the Goodreads description which is a good thing.  The book most reminded me, in tone, in the choppiness of the narrative, in the lack of intimacy with the characters, of The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes for which I also did not care.  

FINAL VERDICT:  An ambitious book with a promising premise but in the end it wasn’t for me.  2 out of 5 Stars. 

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