Leanna Hieber’s The Eterna Files kicks off a series about a race to immortality between the United States and Great Britain in the early 1880s. The Eterna Project began in the United States when a young spiritualist, Clara Templeton, tried to comfort the grieving Mary Todd Lincoln after her husband’s assassination. Templeton and Senator Bishop create a small department within the Secret Service to find a cure for death. By 1882, Queen Victoria has gotten wind of the project and wants her scientists to find immortality before the Americans.
Hieber splits her story between Clara Templeton and Harry Spire, a Metropolitan police detective, with appearances by a Parliamentary secretary, a jailed madman, a ghost, and the ghost’s living twin brother. There’s a lot going on in this book—partly because of the profusion of narrators and partly because Hieber is setting up a complex alternate 1882. At the beginning of The Eterna Files, the short paragraphs and premise made me worry that this would be another slapdash alternate history with touches of fantasy. I’m pleased to report that my first impression was wrong.
As Hieber’s American characters investigate a lab disaster that killed their scientists and most of their magicians, the British characters try to take the lead. The British team is somewhat hampered by Spire’s disbelief in mysticism and Spiritualism. All Spire wants is to get back to his investigation of a ring of child murders and not babysit a bunch of weirdos who talk to themselves and mutter about auras. In the background of this race, Hieber introduces a sinister villain named Moriel, who is still running a gory criminal enterprise from his jail cell. (It’s clear that Moriel will play a bigger part in later books.)
Normally, I stay away from talking about the ending of a book. With this one, however, I feel I need to reveal that The Eterna Files ends with a cliffhanger. If you’re the kind of reader that can’t abide cliffhanger endings, wait for the next book in the series to be published.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.