Just after President Lincoln’s assassination, his wife Mary sets a governmental task force to find a cure for death, thus setting in motion the plot of The Eterna Files (2015) by Leanna Renee Hieber. Seventeen years later, the science team working on the Eterna Compound is mysteriously murdered, as is a parallel team in England, where Queen Victoria wants Britain, not America, to be the first to discover an answer to mortality. Both countries seek to find out what happened to their teams, as well as learn what the other nation has or has not discovered. In America, sensitive Clara Templeton is the main protagonist, helped by a small group of fellow paranormals, including her mentor, a powerful senator who has raised her since when her parents were killed. On the other side of the pond, the British team is led by Inspector Harold Spire (annoyed that he has been taken off a horrific child abduction/murder case) and Rose Everhart, along with Rose’s boss, Lord Black.
I like historical novels. I like speculative fiction (though, granted, paranormal isn’t my favorite sub-genre). So I should have liked The Eterna Files. Unfortunately, the equation didn’t hold for me. The plot moved along in fits and starts, with scenes shifting abruptly and awkwardly, and lots of brief references to past events and more extended references to the child-murder case that interrupted the flow. Plotting in general was a bit baggy and muddled; it never really cohered for me into a singular narrative versus a grouping of scenes.
As for characters, none of them gelled for me into fully fleshed out people I cared about. The quirkiness of some side characters felt a bit too contrived, while the American cast, in particular, was both bland and somewhat paradoxically overly melodramatic. Clara is a little too passive for a major protagonist, and the grief and motivation she’s supposed to be feeling due to losing her lover is muddied by the relationship with her mentor. The English characters are better served, but sometimes fall too easily into tropes and the (literal) circus around them of secondary characters distracts more than it adds. I think I’d have enjoyed a novel that focused simply on the team of Spire and Everhart, but they are too lost in this book as it stands.
My final issue with The Eterna Files beyond plot and character is that it basically ends with nothing resolved; it just sort of stops midstream. That in and of itself isn’t so much the problem; it’s just that what comes before the ending doesn’t do enough to convince me to read forward, leaving me more annoyed than eagerly anticipating. I’ll grant the possibility that plot and character improve in book two of THE ETERNA FILES, but I’m stopping here.