Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Eternal Ones by Kirstin Miller

The Eternal Ones I have Kiki Strike on my shelves, but I've never read it, only heard good things. So when I noticed that I had a copy of The Eternal Ones by Kirstin Miller (Penguin - Razorbill), and that it was a Cybils nominee, I moved it up the to-read stack, even though I wasn't terribly excited about the concept. What I got was a surprising and unique romantic suspense novel.

So let's get the bits I wasn't fond of out of the way first: the romantic interest pushed some buttons for me, and not good ones. Because we're in the heroine's head, we don't know what he's thinking (which is, admittedly, important to the plot), and his interference and romantic aggression bothered me in a way reminiscent of the relationship between Bella and Edward in Twilight. At the same time, the heroine has, and knows she has, the ability to remove herself from the situation for most of the story (with a few notable exceptions, and at least one is important for plot reasons), and she has considerable agency over her participation in romantic liaisons.

But let me back up, because this was an enjoyable read. Haven Moore lives in a small, conservative town, where her visions of a past life in 1920s New York City are thought to be the work of the devil. Her best friend, Beau, helps her make beautiful dresses for her fellow students, which is the only thing that keeps her from being a total outcast--until she destroys her pastor's office during a vision. Haven's strict grandmother wants to lock her up, and her grieving mother is afraid to protect her. Only Lizzie, whose Pentecostal faith gives her a different view on Haven's visions, and Beau, her staunch supporter, are there for her, but all of her dreams and sudden lapses of consciousness are for someone named Ethan that she's been talking about since she was a little girl.

Haven goes to New York to find the Ouroborous Society, thinking that their work in reincarnation may provide her with some answers. She also goes to track down Iain Morrow, a star who knows her instantly, and whose memories match hers of being Constance and Ethan in years past. He whisks her away to Rome in a whirlwind of romance and fun, but people are following them, and it's not just paparazzi. Iain keeps disappearing, and the DA has questions about the death of his friend. Maybe he's seeing that artist whose whereabouts are unknown, or the president of the Ouroborous Society, who wants Iain to keep up his duties to the secretive order. Haven doesn't know whom to trust: her head and her heart don't agree at all. She's had a tragic death as far back as she can remember. Can she survive this life, or will she keep repeating her past?

The Eternal Ones draws heavily on the romance genre, and the mix of fantasy and reality is one that many paranormal romance books could aspire to. The main character could very well have been aged up a few years, and this story published for adults. I think it's important to point out that many teenagers read adult romances, and that it's a function of the YA category that several scenes to fade to black, leaving the rest to imagination. I mused a little bit on romance on this blog recently, and we have a new contender for romance-as-romance; with her past lives, Haven needs to solve a mystery more than she needs to experience personal growth.

The first section of the story, before Haven goes to New York to meet Iain, fits my definition of the "B story" in some ways, in that it's about the main character, but not directly related to the main question ("Is Iain trying to kiss me or kill me?"). Typically, the B story gets mired down when it's introduced and focused on heavily in the first fifty pages, and serves to put off addressing the main question--and, sadly, to pad the book's word count. In The Eternal Ones, it's (in my copy) 134 pages before Haven leaves town, but the first third of the book is well-spent in exploring the religious themes of the book, which tie into the middle and end. Usually, the B story just kills time until the real story starts, if the author isn't able to weave it into the whole arc. Here, I found it to be a little longer than necessary, but worthwhile for the way it sets up the tension between faith and those trading on others' faith for their own ends.

I read this book as a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards, which means that I may have received a review copy from the publisher (or not; I own a lot of the books in this category). I read some books nominated for the YA fantasy and science fiction category in 2010 before the nomination period, and may have already reviewed them or declined to make a public review; these books might not have a Cybils post tag. As a first-round judge, I was tasked with helping create a shortlist of books. My personal reviews do not reflect any actions or discussions of the judging committee.

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