Book Review: The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Eterna FilesThe Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Eterna Files

Publisher: Tor (February 3, 2015)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s Great Britain versus the United States in this paranormal historical novel about the search for immortality. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his widow Mary Todd Lincoln is determined to never let anyone experience her grief again, forming the impetus behind the Eterna Project, a secret group of scientists and researchers tasked to find a cure for death.

Across the ocean, Queen Victoria creates special division in charge of investigating all matters of the supernatural and paranormal, codenaming it “Omega”. Hungry for everlasting power and expansion, the queen appoints Harold Spire of the Metropolitan Police to head up Omega, charging him to find the ruined Eterna laboratory in New York, where she is convinced someone has survived with a sample of the immortality compound. Meanwhile, American Clara Templeton is also searching for Eterna. Grieving for her lover who worked on the secret project and died in the catastrophe that destroyed the laboratory, she will do her best not to let the any of the research fall into British hands.

The book is an interesting blend of genres with a unique premise, though it may take quite a bit of investment to get into the meat of the story. It’s up to the reader to get caught up, since we’re essentially dropped into the wake of the destruction of the Eterna laboratory and deaths of all the scientists and researchers. But perhaps most bewildering of all is the prologue which introduces readers to the character of Clara as a young girl, being confided in by Mary Todd Lincoln after the assassination of the president. Thus we learn that Clara possesses special abilities, ones that allow her to commune with the dead, but that she also a mystic of sorts who recalls all the memories of her past lives.

Even after finishing this novel, I’m still unclear as to the significance of Clara’s abilities in the bigger scheme of things. They don’t benefit her in any clear way, and certainly not on the Eterna project as she isn’t even directly connected with the work. They don’t even come in handy when it comes to communicating with her dead lover, since she blocks everything out. As far as I can tell, her psychic talents are there to make her stand out and be more interesting than she really is. The truth is, Clara is aloof, uninspiring and devoid of much personality, and unfortunately her powers actually don’t do much to improve things. In fact, I think they make an even bigger mess of her character. Whether her abilities will come into play later on in the series, only time will tell.

On the British side, we have Harold Spire and Omega. I found Spire to be a much more developed character than Clara, and more sympathetic due to his tragic past and the unusual relationship he has with his father. There are also more interesting characters in Omega; secret agents and spies and circus performers, oh my. My only criticism is that, while assigned the job of tracking down Eterna, the plot ends up spending more time focusing on Spire as he investigates another seemingly unconnected case. This robs the story of a lot of the suspense, especially if you were anticipating a tension-filled “arms race” type competition between the British and Americans from the novel’s description, with the two nations scrabbling to be the first to find the secret to immortality. This is not that kind of book, which was somewhat disappointing, though I ultimately didn’t mind the new direction.

The Eterna Files ended up being an enjoyable read, if at times disorganized and convoluted. In the jumble of themes and ideas and plot points, I can glean the overall picture and take a good guess where author Leanna Renee Hieber is taking the story, even though the narrative stumbles in the pacing and is slow in pulling it all together. Once everything resolves, however, it’s a lot more compelling.


A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Tor Books!

14 Comments on “Book Review: The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber”

  1. Hmm… Think I may pass on this one. Wonder if perhaps there could be some long term reason for Clara’s abilities that won’t be realized until subsequent books? Or, maybe it really is just a failed attempt at make her more interesting 🙂


  2. I got this unsolicited from Tor, but I do want to try to get to it. I sure love the idea of the plot and the setting/time period, I guess I’ll have to see for myself how I feel about the execution. It could just be one of those series that takes off in the second and third books.


    • The setting was wonderful, I love these historical fantasies that take place in this era. And I agree with your assessment, which is why I may pick up the next one when it comes out.


  3. Good call on Clara’s abilities. I fund her a less than compelling characters but hadn’t really picked up on the fact that her “specialness” didn’t really play any significant role. I had all the same problems – the pacing was wack and the I couldn’t get interested in the characters – and I think it bothered me more than you. I don’t think I’ll pick up book two though the premise had some potential.


  4. I like your analysis of this one… reckon you’re spot on about Clara! Everything picked up towards the end though, so hopefully that momentum will continue. Definitely plan on reading the next.


  5. Hmmm…I’m intrigued by the plot, but I’ve been seeing so many “average” ratings from people that I’m not too keen on it. Victorian paranormal investigation squad? That’s *so* in my wheelhouse…maybe if book 2 is better I’ll pick this series up. Sorry you didn’t love it!


  6. I didn’t mention how arbitrary Clara’s abilities seem to be in relation to the plot, but . . . I definitely agree. Oh well. At least it made me laugh from time to time 😉


  7. Pingback: The Eterna Files (Eterna Files #1) by Leanna Renee Hieber | Christy Luis Reviews: Speculative Fiction (Mostly)

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