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The Eterna Files
     

The Eterna Files

4.6 3
by Leanna Renee Hieber
 

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Imagine The X-Files meets Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series and set in Victorian London and New York City, written by “the brightest new star in literature”(TrueBlood.net)

Overview

Imagine The X-Files meets Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series and set in Victorian London and New York City, written by “the brightest new star in literature”(TrueBlood.net)

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/08/2014
Hieber (The Double Life of Incorporate Things) kicks off her new Victorian fantasy series with this atmospheric but unfocused cloak-and-dagger affair in which rival agencies search for the cure to death. Following the unfortunate demise of an American team researching the so-called Eterna Compound, which promises immortality, teams from both sides of the Atlantic engage in ethereal espionage and spectral skullduggery. Representing America: psychic Clara Templeton, instrumental in the project’s origins. For England: police officer Harold Spire, newly appointed director of Special Branch: Division Omega. There’s also a motley crew of spies, mediums, and scholars. But as both teams track down leads, a gruesomely ruthless third faction seems ready to beat them to the prize. Hieber takes a leisurely approach to the story: neither primary group ever encounters the other, and a diagram is needed to keep the sprawling cast organized. This initial entry is mostly set-up, leading to a frustrating cliffhanger with very little resolved or explained, but Hieber has a knack for creating authentic Victorian atmosphere and colorful personalities that will keep readers coming back for more. Agent: Nicholas Roman Lewis, The Roman Group (Feb.)
Library Journal
12/01/2014
Rival teams in Victorian-era London and New York are searching for the secret to eternal life. In London, Harold Spire has been plucked from the police force to lead a new team after the last group disappeared without a trace. He works with Rose Everheart, a researcher more open to the possibility that supernatural forces exist in the world. In America, Clara Templeton drove the U.S. hunt for the eterna compound after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and hopes to use her ability to see spirits to help the cause. VERDICT Hieber (Strangely Beautiful) has a good feel for her time period, and the premise of Victorian spies certainly has appeal. But as is always a danger when running parallel story lines, the author fails to make the characters stand out enough from each other or the story compelling enough to keep the plights of the American and British teams from blurring together.
Kirkus Reviews
2015-01-08
A corseted heroine and determined detective battle the supernatural and each other to find a formula promising either eternal life or instant death.The deaths and disappearances of magical researchers in England and the U.S. spur intrigue in the latest melodramatic gothic fantasy from Hieber (The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart, 2012, etc.). Both nations are on the hunt for immortality, and high-society Manhattanite and "sensitive" Clara Templeton and London Metropolitan policeman Harold Spire lead the chase in this hyperventilating version of the 1880s. Spiritualist Clara must find out who killed her team of Eterna Project researchers, including her secret lover, who is now a loitering spirit. "You're at the center of the storm. Be worthy of the squall," another ghostly visitor urges Clara as she bows under the weight of sorrow in one of the finest lines of this richly embellished novel. Spire tries to reconcile his desire to uncover the demonic cult infiltrating all levels of English society with the call to patriotic duty from Queen Victoria, who demands that he steal for England the Eterna team's purported solution to untimely death. As the narrative crisscrosses the Atlantic, each covert operation builds up a ragtag team of quirky characters. In a story juggling many elements and many perspectives, the teams' purposes bubble up slowly, and their adventuresome trials are both vague and baggy. While Hieber carves out a chillingly reimagined Gilded Age in careful detail, the motivations of the host of characters do not convince. An abrupt ending leaves the reader assuming there will be a sequel to sort out the jumble. Gloomy froth for the teen goth enamored of petticoats and séances.
From the Publisher

“Hieber’s formidable imagination is given free rein in this smart, boundlessly creative gaslamp fantasy. She blends historical fact and paranormal fiction with ease, creating a world that is lush and fascinatingly strange, and reveals her secrets sparingly, keeping fans on edge for more information about these intriguingly powerful characters and the ties that bind them together. Patient readers will be well rewarded for letting this haunting novel unfold around them.”—RT Book Reviews (4 stars)

“Rich in conceits as anything from Alan Moore, Hieber’s novel mixes action and the emotional lives of its characters into a fascinating stew. Anyone who enjoyed Paul Cornell’s London Falling will certainly cozy up to Hieber’s parallel depiction of questioning savants and heroes versus the forces of anarchy and despair.”—Paul Di Filippo in Asimov’s Science Fiction

“Extremely descriptive; the supernatural plot is intriguing. The author has offered up a rainbow of characters, from the guilt-ridden to the intellectual to the satirical, which will have readers chomping at the bit for more.”—Suspense Magazine

“The alternating plotlines seem equally urgent, riddled by murders and bearing the taint of madness. Both settings take the time to introduce a fascinating array of offbeat characters (many but not all Gifted): circus performers, a few surprisingly sane politicians, strong-willed women, and male sensitives. Quests to find ways around death – whether to renew life, or find new ways to kill – keep getting stymied.”—Locus

“Excellent first installment in a unique new series. Hieber expertly blends intriguing supernatural elements and interesting, quirky characters in an authentic historical setting. Readers who enjoy a skillful mixture of history and paranormal elements will be well-pleased with the terrific The Eterna Files.”—Bitten By Books

“Hieber’s alternate history/steampunk world is well drawn, and her characters, though numerous, are fully realized.”—Historical Novel Society

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765336743
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
02/10/2015
Series:
Eterna Files Series , #1
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
329,939
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Eterna Files


By Leanna Renee Hieber

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2015 Leanna Renee Hieber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-2925-1


CHAPTER 1

London, 1882

Harold Spire had been pacing until first light, crawling out of his skin to close his God-forsaken case. The moment the tentative sun poked over the chimney tops of Lambeth—though it did not successfully permeate London's sooty haze—he raced out the door to meet his appointed contact.

Conveniently, there was a fine black hansom just outside his door. Spire shouted his destination at the driver as he threw open the door and launched himself into the carriage. He was startled to find that the cab already had an occupant: a short, balding man, immaculately but distinctly dressed; as one might expect of a royal footman.

"Hello, Mr. Spire," the man said calmly.

Spire's stomach dropped; his right hand hovered over his left wrist, where he kept a small, sharp knife in a simple cuff. Surely this was one of Tourney's henchmen; the villain was well connected and would do anything to save his desperate hide.

"Do not be alarmed, sir," the stranger said. "We are en route to Buckingham Palace on orders of Her Majesty Queen Victoria."

"Is there a problem?" Spire asked, maintaining a calm tone, relaxing his hand but offering up a silent prayer to whatever God was decent and good that the queen would not have interceded on the wretch's behalf....

"No, sir. You are being considered for an appointment. I can say nothing more."

"An ... appointment."

"Yes, sir."

"I'm afraid I cannot attend to this great honor at present, sir."

The man arched a preened brow. "Beg your pardon?"

"With all due respect," Spire continued, not bothering to hide the earnest desperation he felt, "I am a policeman at a critical juncture, awaiting receipt of vital material without which a vicious criminal might walk free—"

"And what shall I tell Her Majesty? That you're too busy for her?"

Spire set his jaw, looking anxiously out the window, seeing that they were heading in the opposite direction from where he needed to be at precisely seven. "Please tell Her Majesty that I'm about to stop a ring of child murderers and resurrectionists. Burkes and Hares. Body snatchers—"

"That will have to wait. Mere police work does not come before Her Majesty."

"I think highly enough of Her Majesty to think she'd deem this important."

"I am under orders to take you to the palace regardless of prevarication—"

"I wouldn't dare lie about a thing like this!"

"Once Her Majesty has determined your suitability, you'll be returned to your duties."

"You'll have to give the empress my sincere regrets. She may be able to live with one more child dead in her realm but I, sir, cannot."

With that, Spire opened the door of the moving carriage and cast himself onto flagstones slick with the foul mixture of the London streets. His heel turned slightly under him and he came down painfully; his elbow jarred against stone and his forearm cut against the brace that held his knife sheath. He jumped to his feet and ran—with a slight limp—veering onto a bridge across the busy, teeming, brown Thames and onward to a life-or-death rendezvous.

He'd likely be arrested for his evasion, but his conscience was utterly clear.

* * *

Spire's right hand hovered over his left forearm as he entered the damp brick alley, which was lit sporadically by gas jets whose light was dim behind blackened lantern glass. Even though the world was brightening with the gray of morning, sunlight didn't penetrate into these drear, winding halls of sooty brick, London having its labyrinthine qualities. He made his tread soundless on the cobblestones, his eyes aware of every shadow and shape, his ears alert, his nostrils flared.

While he doubted his informant was dangerous—it was all bookkeeping, really, he imagined the source was a bank clerk or the like—what the ledgers revealed was something else entirely. The proof itself was dangerous and many men would kill with far less provocation. If "Gazelle" proved trustworthy, Spire would recruit the man for his department.

He palmed the key Gazelle had left in the drop location at Cleopatra's Needle. If all had gone according to plan, Gazelle would have left enough evidence at this bookstore to prove without a shadow of a doubt that Francis Tourney was bankrupting charitable societies in a speculation racket that would make any betting man blush. That he was also involved in a child-trafficking ring of both living and dead young bodies was harder to prove, but far more damning.

The key opened the rear-alley door of the bookshop. A small lantern was lit somewhere within, casting a wan yellow light over stacks of spines. Spire knocked on the wooden door frame: three taps, a pause, and two more.

A quiet rap in response, from somewhere within the maze of books, confirmed that his informant was waiting. Spire edged his way through boxes and stacks—one stray limb could cause the whole precarious haphazard system to tumble—toward the source of the light.

He turned a corner of books and stopped dead in his tracks. There sat a woman who had gotten him into a good bit of trouble—the prime minister's best-kept secret, his bookkeeper, one Miss Rose Everhart. Poised as ever, seated at a long wooden table; the lit lantern cast her scowl of concentration into sharp relief as layered bell sleeves spilled over a stack of thin spines. One ledger lay, open, under her hand; she ran ungloved fingertips over the pages.

She wasn't stunning, but unique; her full mouth, set now in a frown, gave her a gravitas offset by the few loose brown curls around her cheeks, an almost whimsical contrast to her fastidious expression. When she looked up at Spire, the intensity and razor-sharp focus of her large blue eyes made her intriguing, magnetic.

"You're surprised to see a woman," she said. It was not a question.

"Yes." Spire spoke very carefully. "Especially one I recognize." At this, she smiled, a prim, self-satisfied smile. "You made quite an impression, Miss Everhart. A cloaked female figure glimpsed wandering the halls of Parliament, only to disappear into a wall? I didn't buy the story that you were a specter."

"The too-curious Westminster policeman. So we meet again," she said with an edge. "The eager dog sniffing out a fox. My employers, who were granting me the easiest access to my job while hoping to avoid any national outcry, were not fond of you. And I confess, nor was I. It was bad enough to have to sneak about, then to be thought suspect for it when I am a patriot? Horrible."

"Yes, I was quite chastised about that by your superior, Lord Black," Spire muttered, "so you needn't pile on." He wondered with sudden fear if that's why the queen wished to see him: more scolding. Spire's purview was Westminster and its immediate environs. When he'd stumbled upon Miss Everhart, he'd merely been doing his job. Tourney's speculation ring involved members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, so it was perhaps not surprising that Spire had thought that the prime minister's bookkeeper had access others did not.

At the mention of Lord Black, Miss Everhart smiled and warmed. She stood suddenly, as if on ceremony, gesturing for Spire to sit at the bench opposite. While she was primly buttoned in dour blues and grays, her skirts and bodice were tailored in unique lines and accented with the occasional bauble that made Spire think a subtle bohemian lived somewhere deep beneath her proper corset laces.

"We have enough on the racketeering for a compelling case," she said, handing several ledgers across the table.

"Good," he said, nodding.

"But it's this that will deliver the decisive blow," she murmured, and shuddered. She passed him a narrow, thin black book that she didn't seem eager to touch. The cover said, "Registry."

"What's this? Did you collect this from the banks?"

"No. From Tourney's study." At Spire's raised eyebrow, Miss Everhart clarified, "After I showed him the numbers, Lord Black arranged for Sir Tourney to attend some sort of speculators' gala. Black stamped a warrant and found this."

"Himself?" Spire asked, incredulous.

"Lord Black had been feted at the Tourney estate, so sending him in was the most efficient. He knew to look for anything out of the ordinary. And this is hardly ordinary."

Shocked by a lord's unorthodox method but impressed by the man's initiative, Spire opened the book. Small, dark marks and round smudges marched down the pages in boxes made up of thin graphite lines. A few letters—initials, Spire guessed—were penciled above each dot.

On one side of the page, the dots were dark red. On the other side, the small marks were black. At the top of each page was a single large letter: "L" above the red marks and "D" above the black.

Horror dawned, slow and sick, as Spire stared at the lines of dots and initials. Dots the size of a child's fingertip.

"Living." Spire's finger hovered over the "L."

Then he moved to the "D." "Deceased"

Oh, God. They were children's fingerprints. Swabbed in their blood. Or, if their bodies had been stolen when dead, their fingers dipped in ink and pressed to the page.

A registry of stolen children.

Used for God knows what.

"I ..." Spire stared at Miss Everhart, whose face was unreadable. "I'm sorry you had to see this."

Her jaw tensed, pursed lips pressed thinner. "I am thirty and unmarried. I doubt I'll ever have children, so I do whatever I can. I owe it to those poor children not to flinch."

Spire nodded. He hadn't thought to place any women assets in his police force. But women could keep secrets, tell lies, deceive, and connive with an aptitude that frightened him. Women made bloody good spies. He knew that well enough.

Spire rose, sliding the ledger, breakdown, and "registry" into his briefcase. "Thank you, Miss Everhart. Please give Lord Black my regards, I was unaware he was involved. I'm not wasting any time on the arrest."

"I didn't imagine you would." Everhart rose and wove expertly through the labyrinth of books. As she disappeared, she called back to him. "Go on. I'll alert your squadron. I doubt you should go there alone."

He stared after her a moment, resentful of initiative taken without his orders ... but it would save him valuable time.

* * *

Spire and his squad descended upon the decadent Tourney estate; a hideous, sprawling mansion faced in ostentatious pink marble, hoarding a generous swath of land in North London.

His best men at his side, Stuart Grange and Gregory Phyfe, Spire stormed Tourney's front door, blowing past a startled footman.

The despicable creature was having breakfast in a fine parlor. The son of a Marquis, descended of a withering line, seemed quite shocked to see the police; his surprised expression validated Spire's existence.

Spire was tempted to strike the man across the jaw on principle but became distracted by the thin maid, in a tattered black dress and a besmeared white linen apron, who cowered in the corner of the parlor. Entirely ignored by the rest of the force, she was shaking, unable to look anyone in the eye. Her condition was a stark contrast to her fine surroundings, which valued possessions higher than humanity....

Shaking his head, Spire instructed his colleagues to secure Tourney in the wagon.

"I've all kinds of connections," the bloated, balding man cried as he was dragged away. "Would you like me to list the names of the powerful who will help me?"

"I think you're in too deep for anyone but the devil to come to your aid, Mr. Tourney," Spire called as the door was shut between them. Silence fell and he turned to the woman in the corner.

At his approach, the gaunt, frail maid began murmuring through cracked lips, "Please, please, please." She lifted a bony arm and the cuff of her uniform slid back, revealing a grisly series of scars on her arm. Burns. Signs of binding and torture.

"Please what, Miss?" Spire asked gently, not touching her.

"S—secret door ... Get them ... out...." She pointed at the opposite wall.

A chill went down Spire's spine. He studied the wall for a long time before noticing the line in the carved wooden paneling. Crossing the room, he ran his hand along the molding, pressing until something gave. The hidden door swung open and a horrific stench met his nostrils.

The maid loosed a wretched noise and sunk to her knees, rocking back and forth. Spire raised his voice, calling to his partner and friend, a stalwart man who played all things carefully and whom Spire trusted implicitly, "Grange, I think there may be a ... situation down here."

Without waiting for a reply, Spire was through the door and descending a brick stairwell, fumbling in his pocket for a box of matches. A lantern hung at the base of the stair; he lit the wick and set it back upon the crook. The flame, magnified by mirrors, cast a wan light over the small, windowless brick room.

It was everything Spire could do to keep from screaming in horror.

Six small tables, three on each side of the room. Each bore the body of a child clothed in a bloodstained tunic. Spire could not determine their genders due to their unkempt hair, pallor, and emaciated bodies. Strange wires seemed to be attached to the children.

Nothing in his investigation, even that dread register, had prepared him for this: these poor, innocent souls, helpless victims of a powerful man who was viciously mad.

He raised his gaze from the children to an even greater horror, if a worse nightmare could be imagined. An auburn-haired woman in a thin chemise and petticoat was lashed to a crosslike apparatus, arms stretched out and sleeves torn away. Streams of dried blood from numerous puncture wounds stained her clothes, the cross, and the walls and floor. Below each of her lashed arms sat large bronze chalices, there was a basin at her feet. Spire knew in a glance that these were to collect the woman's blood. What horrific sacrifice was this?

Spire turned his head to the side and retched. His mind scrambled to block out the image of who that woman reminded him of, the reason he'd become a police officer. The trauma of his childhood sprang back to haunt him at the sight of that ghastly visage in a blow to the mind, heart, and stomach. How could the world be endured if such a thing as this had come to pass? He'd asked the same question when the victim had been his mother. Nothing answered him, then or now, but sorrow.

"I never believed much in the devil," came a soft, familiar voice near his ear, "or hell, but if I did, it would be this." Spire spun to see a cloaked figure at his side, the solitary lantern casting a shallow beam of light upon the face of Rose Everhart.

"Miss Everhart, you should not be here. I don't know how you got past my men," Spire murmured, thinking it an additional horror that she should see this. "This is hardly the place—"

"For a lady? Even for the lady who handed you the critical evidence needed to arrest Tourney? Do I not wish to see him marched to the gallows as much as you do?" she replied vehemently. "Don't I have a right to see my work completed? Don't try my patience with references to 'women's delicate sensibilities.' I've seen more death and tragedy than I care to relate. But, admittedly ... never like this. Never like this." She raised a handkerchief to her nose.

Spire suddenly wondered whether she had heard or seen him retch. It would be embarrassing if so.

"What are those wires?" she asked. "What are they for? Is this some sort of terrible experiment or workshop? Ritualistic, yes, but ..."

Spire stepped forward, preparing however reluctantly to examine the bodies, when something lurched out of the darkness behind him with a clatter of chains and an inhuman growl. It grabbed him around the neck, grunted as it tightened its grip, and dragged him backward.

"Grange!" Rose shouted as Spire gasped for air and struggled to reach his knife. "If you're a victim, we don't want to hurt you," she called in a softer tone, lifting her lantern and directing its light toward the scuffle. "Let the officer go, he's with the police, here to help—"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber. Copyright © 2015 Leanna Renee Hieber. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Leanna Renee Hieber's first novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, is a foundation work of gaslamp fantasy. The novel won two Prism Awards and is being developed for the stage as a work of musical theater. A talented actor and singer, Hieber has appeared on stage and screen, including episodes of Boardwalk Empire, and regularly leads ghost tours in New York City.

Hieber has often said that she feels she was born in the wrong time; she is rarely seen out of Victorian garb. Her lyrical, atmospheric prose made her a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award for historical fiction and has earned her numerous awards, including the Ancient Cities Heart of Excellence Award. An energetic self-promoter, Hieber is one of the co-founders of the Lady Jane's Salon reading series and often appears at conventions, bookstores, and library events.

Leanna Renee Hieber lives in New York City with her husband and their beloved rescue rabbit.

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The Eterna Files 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
BittenByBooksRS More than 1 year ago
The Eterna Files, the excellent first installment in a unique new series, begins with a familiar story–the death of Abraham Lincoln. Immediately thereafter, the tale veers into less-recognizable territory, with young “spiritualist” Clara Templeton declaring that the president should have been made immortal in order to protect the position. Lincoln’s widow, Mary, instantly latches onto the idea, resulting in the birth of the Eterna group, with the secret mission to investigate immortality. Seventeen years later, Clara, still working for the Eterna group run by her mentor Senator Bishop, cannot shake the ominous feeling of impending doom, knowing something must be wrong with part of the team. Soon Clara and Bishop learn that four of their colleagues died horribly in the building where they worked, also having disappeared without a trace. Learning what happened to the fallen becomes their first priority. Meanwhile, in London, police detective Harold Spire finds himself removed from a shocking crime scene to an impromptu meeting with Queen Victoria, who wishes him to head up security for her organization, Omega, formed in response to the Eterna group in order to discover the compound granting immortality before the Americans do. Not really given a choice in the matter, Spire accepts his new role, with reservations, but also resolves to continue with the case of the resurrectionist ring he was in the middle of. As both teams carry out their prescribed (and unofficial) investigations, their discoveries demonstrate that much more than meets the eye may be going on, and they may well get much more than they bargained for. Hieber expertly blends intriguing supernatural elements and interesting, quirky characters in an authentic historical setting. The ghosts, spirits, and other mysterious beings that make an appearance in the novel often prove truly spooky, just as they should in a good ghost story. The players comprising both the Eterna and Omega groups have their distinctive abilities and appeal, though this reviewer admits to an affinity for the British team. Clara and Harold, though both answer to others above them, in many ways set the tone for their respective crews, and much of the action of the novel occurs via their perspectives. The author excels at creating the atmosphere and backdrop which infuses the tale’s setting, through imagery, historical detail, and even the cadence of speech. Readers who enjoy a skillful mixture of history and paranormal elements will be well-pleased with the terrific The Eterna Files.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book 2x in 3 weeks, because I so thoroughly enjoyed it, and because my brain would not stop thinking about it. Ms. Hieber's writing is beautiful, full, compelling and funny, and her deep understanding of all of her vastly different characters comes through in every moment. Her knowledge of Victorian London AND New York City is extensive, which she deftly uses to heighten her story without letting the historical details take over (though admittedly, as a New Yorker, it's really fun to read about familiar locations and events in NYC history as part of the plot). The characters are fascinating--especially in how the American and English teams parallel each other in actions and characteristics--and while the book is clearly the start to a series, with a pretty epic cliffhanger at the end, it doesn't feel like exposition. Or at least, the exposition and character descriptions are virtually seamless with the continuation of the plotline. There are also some decidedly creepy moments, which tend to insinuate themselves into your brain late at night when you can't sleep. Just FYI. After my first read-through, I discovered there were references to previous works of Ms. Hieber's in "The Eterna Files", so I went back and read all three in her Magic Most Foul series ("Darker Still", "The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart", and "The Double Life of Incorporate Things"), which I highly recommend doing. It made the story of "Eterna Files" even richer and more nuanced in hindsight, and made me want to read it again. Doing so had the additional thrill of a feeling of clairvoyance, since Hieber's other novels helped clarify to me, the reader, things that the Eterna/Omega characters just don't see yet. Warning: Additional knowledge makes the cliffhanger even worse. Very much looking forward to the next installment, and in the meantime, will be reading as many other books of Ms. Hieber's as I can find! I hear "The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker" is phenomenal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author's storyline is intertwined with her other works. This latest is just as intriguing as the others.