Last year I read a half dozen books by Eric Brown, and he very quickly became one of my favourite authors. It wasn’t like I hadn’t read anything by him before, I had all of his Solaris releases up to that point, but after reading the final Bengal Station book, Cosmopath, in late 2009 I knew I had to track down some of his other work. Eric Brown is the kind of author that can write about very human traits, crafting his stories to deliver an emotional and personal experience. The fact that he writes SF is all the better, but he doesn’t force the ideas and technology on to you through his stories, and while they are an integral part to the plots they do not dominate them. It’s a style that is very successful, and goes to show just how skilled he is at telling a story.
Why, you may ask, am I telling you this. It’s quite simple really: The Kings of Eternity is another typical Eric Brown novel, one that uses an SF staple at its core, yet tells the story through its characters. The cover may suggest interplanetary travel, alien worlds and intelligence, and perhaps even that sense of wonder that SF is known for, but what you will find within the pages of The Kings of Eternity is more personal, but thoroughly science fictional.
The Kings of Eternity is split into two very distinct sections, one focusing on writer Daniel Langham and his secluded life on a small Greek island during 1999 and the other on Jonathon Langham, Edward Vaughan and brothers Jasper & Charles Carnegie in London and the English countryside of 1935. Daniel Langham is a writer who enjoys his privacy, always conscious of people trying to get close to him for an exclusive interview or whatever else he suspects them of. And that is the case when Caroline Platt comes into his life, changing his outlook and once again falling in love. In 1935 Jonathon and Vaughan are also writers, and after a summons to the estate of Jasper Carnegie they discover something beyond wonder that will change their lives, forever.
What struck me when I started The Kings of Eternity was very much the non-sf feel of the book, the characters and the writing. With one small exception you could have been fooled that you were reading a non-genre novel up to 60 or so pages in, and then once the science fictional element comes into play it’s there, but sometimes you actually forget it is. Eric Brown has crafted characters that you genuinely want to care about, are interested in their lives and how they deal with the everything that is thrown at them. This is not something that happens in many genre novels where characterisation often takes second place to Big Ideas, but Brown has been bucking that trend for a long time now – The Kings of Eternity is a prime example of a writer at the top of his game.
Daniel Langham comes across very much as the lonely writer desperately trying to keep his privacy, but there is a deeper layer to this that is not immediately apparent. From his early encounters with strangers he is obviously paranoid about something, and this aspect of his past is explored more as the novel progresses. When he meets Caroline he is at odds with himself – his paranoia means he must know she isn’t just after the usual stuff, but he desperately wants to ignore this and take things as they come. It’s an interesting view into his character that also throws up other trust issues he has, and it’s dealt with just right. The times we follow Daniel are the shorter sections for the most part, but they add a much to the story and, in the end, it’s clear why.
Jonathon Langham, also a writer, lives in 1935 London, able to live decently off his craft. His relationship with Carla, a stage actress in London, is an on and off affair, not quite leading to a full partnership. But Jonathon’s jealousy is his downfall and he can’t even see her talking to another man without the beast rearing its ugly head. With his father also ill his friendship with Edward Vaughan and Jasper Carnegie that leads him away from London is just what he needs, and the discovery of a portal from another world in Hopton Wood is only the start. While Jonathon’s life in London shows much of his character, it’s the events in Hopton Wood and Cranley Grange that are the start, and focus, of The Kings of Eternity.
Because both narrators are writers the prose flows very well, the descriptions of their surroundings, the events that they are part of and their story in general are conveyed in such a way that you don’t so much as read the novel but simply absorb the story. Sometimes a book can have this readability factor that makes you want to plow through it and get to the end, but the opposite is true for The Kings of Eternity. I didn’t want it to end, and even though I was desperate to read more and more in each sitting I rationed myself to the novel, not wanting to come to the final page. However, the end did come and I was left wanting. I did not want The Kings of Eternity to be anything other than what it was, I just wanted more. Perhaps this is selfish of me, but it is rare that a book delivers such a story that I felt deprived when it ended.
I can’t say that I highly recommend The Kings of Eternity because that’s not true – I believe that this book is a must-read. It’s the kind of sci-fi book that is accessible to non-sci-fi readers, but it is equally one that veteran readers of the genre will enjoy. Excellent.