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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review - "The Eternal Ones" by Kirsten Miller

“The Eternal Ones”

Author: Kirsten Miller.

Publisher: Penguin Razorbill.

Pages: 416.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Haven Moore can't control her visions of a past with a boy called Ethan, and a life in New York that ended in fiery tragedy. In our present, she designs beautiful dresses for her classmates with her best friend Beau. Dressmaking keeps her sane, since she lives with her widowed and heartbroken mother in her tyrannical grandmother's house in Snope City, a tiny town in Tennessee. Then an impossible group of coincidences conspire to force her to flee to New York, to discover who she is, and who she was.

In New York, Haven meets Iain Morrow and is swept into an epic love affair that feels both deeply fated and terribly dangerous. Iain is suspected of murdering a rock star and Haven wonders, could he have murdered her in a past life? She visits the Ouroboros Society and discovers a murky world of reincarnation that stretches across millennia. Haven must discover the secrets hidden in her past lives, and loves¸ before all is lost and the cycle begins again.

Cover impressions: I am very picky about my romances, especially when it comes to the notorious minefield that YA romances has become. With the paranormal YA genre populated with instant love, jerkiness masquerading as love, tragic live with no consequences, obsessive love and stalking as love, it’s all become a little depressing. With “The Eternal Ones” we have an emphasis on reincarnation with romance, something that was touched upon with disastrous incompetence by Lauren Kate in “Fallen.” When I was working in a bookshop last Christmas, the employees were allowed to take home some of the ARCs that were sent into the store and I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book but it’s taken me a long time to actually finish reading the book.

Reincarnation as a central theme in a story is an idea with fantastic potential but said potential can also be mishandled very easily. It’s all too easy to use it as a get-out-of-characterisation-and-development-free card and I’m afraid that’s what “The Eternal Ones” does for the larger part of the story, which is a shame because the initial set-up was intriguing: a young woman in a claustrophobic small town with traditional beliefs and old fashioned scare mongering coupled with her confusion over her visions and what they all mean could have been something genuinely gripping in the tradition of the Southern gothic, a genre I am a complete sucker for. Haven, cheesy name choice aside, starts out an interesting enough heroine, and the small town residents well rounded enough to keep the story going, although there are moments where they’re seriously at risk of falling into caricature territory, but the moment Iain enters the equation, it goes downhill very quickly.

There’s no development between Haven and Iain as lovers. They meet face-to-face about a hundred pages in and that’s that. While Miller tries to throw a few red herrings and speed bumps in the way of their relationship, they offer no real depth to the characters and actually served to make me dislike the couple more and more as the story progressed. Haven showed brief moments of strength and backbone but all too often she fell into stupid mode and blindly accepted Iain’s explanations even when she knew they were lies. I’m not sure how everyone else feels but I can’t be the only one who is sick of the so called hero constantly lying and keeping important secrets from his supposed love to ‘protect her’ and ‘keep her safe’, when just keeping her up-to-date on what’s happening would surely be of more use to her. Iain doesn’t come across as a gallant hero or love for the ages; he just comes across as an entitled jerk. The reincarnation element seemed like such a cheap move to pull in lieu of real development between Haven and Iain – they already know each other and loved each other in a previous life as different people so why get to know each other in this life? Because people obviously never change. Haven’s jealousy over Iain’s playboy reputation is apparently one of the reasons he loves her over their many lifetimes together, which I found to be an odd thing to like about someone. Surely such emotions aren’t a strong foundation for a relationship? There was no real fire or heat between the pair, let alone trust or mutual respect.

The plot, with its numerous red herrings and pointless dead ends that added nothing to the story, was serviceable but far too long. At over 400 pages, a stringent editor could have done wonders with the story and streamlined it more for a quicker paced read. The lack of serious development over these pages was also disappointing, especially since the potential was limitless. I found myself imagining new ways to write the story; Haven being unsure whether her visions are real, the result of madness or possession, the conflict between religion and medicine in a small, suspicious town, the conflict between religions (a brief scene involving Haven visiting a different church with a friend revealed some interesting possibilities) and the difficulties between Haven, her family and the town’s residents, etc. Some ambiguity could have done this story wonders, but everything was so clean cut and even when doubt was thrown into the equation, one never fully believes that there’s any true alternative to the designated storyline.

Haven’s visions also suffered from the typical path of magical powers in YA in that they only showed up when it was convenient to the plot and only just revealed enough to keep Haven in the dark at all times. It became rather annoying after a while. Outside of the breeding pair, the supporting cast ranged from interesting (Haven’s friend Beau was sweet and their friendship didn’t feel too forced) to clichéd (the town preacher who had potential to be much scarier than he was) and cardboard cut outs (Haven’s fiercely religious grandmother was a shrill, two-dimensional figure with potential – I keep using that word – to be so much more). The ending does pick up the pace, with the villain of the piece finally turning up a little late to the table, and throws in a few interesting elements that I wish had been added earlier to the story, although seeing as this is the first in a series, it will be interesting to see how Miller develops his potential.

Overall, I didn’t hate this book, I just felt disappointed. It had such great potential and the prose was strong enough to support it but the plotting fell back on easy conveniences and a poorly developed romance between stock characters with no unique qualities. There is further potential for the sequel to be interesting if Miller sticks with the intriguing parts but the reliance on easy ways out left me feeling cold. Reincarnation is a fascinating idea and deserves an equally fascinating story to back it up. This just isn’t it.


On a more shameless note, my next post on The Book Lantern, where I'll be recommending underappreciated Scottish teen fiction, should be up today so go check it out and leave a few comments on our posts!

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Ashleigh said...

This is so close to what I thought of the book that it scares me. I loved the mystery behind what happened in their past lives (my need to figure it out is why I finished the book in one day), but Haven and Iain's relationship was one of the worst-done I've seen, the reincarnation angle was poorly used, and almost all of the potential went down the drain. But I will buy "All You Desire" when it comes out to see where the story goes. Maybe it will improve?

-sigh- I want to see someone mess with the "reincarnation romance" trope, something like "two people loved each other in past lives, but they don't love each other now and feel pressured to stay together anyways despite how they feel." I have no doubt such a book would be fantastic.

thebloodfiend said...

Not another, reincarnation means we don't need to develop the relationship, book. I don't think these authors know what reincarnation really means. It has nothing to do with soul mates. It's all based on karma. You could be reincarnated as someone's brother, lover, or murderer. It's possible to have multiple soul mates, without even having to be lovers. I wish they'd actually do some research first.

Anonymous said...

I had about the same thoughts on this book. I didn't dislike it but I didn't really like it either. If it had less filler, a more believable romance and Haven didn't have so many TSTL moments it could have been good. As it is, at least the antagonist is funny in a creepy sort of way and he actually had a presence rather than being pure plot device.

Adee said...

There's so much you can do with reincarnation. For instance, what if Hero and Heroine, in their efforts to stop the past from repeating itself, end up discovering that they DON'T want to be together in this life? Or what if the visions really WERE all fabricated?

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