Solaris Books (http://www.solarisbooks.com)
448 pp, Paperback
Eric Brown has been writing for a number of years and since the Solaris imprint launched in 2007, he’s been one of their top authors – he writes consistently and what he writes is received very well. The Kings of Eternity, the subject of this review, is a book he worked on for a decade and can be seen as two stories in one. In it, Brown takes a very writerly trope and chooses as his protagonists two writers who are separated by the gulf of about 64 years. Of course, going into the novel with that premise, it might be considered a foregone conclusion the two storylines will eventually converge. However; the manner in which Brown makes the twain meet makes for a wonderful journey.
In 1999 a reclusive writer named Daniel Langham shuns all forms of publicity living a truly introverted life on a remote Greek Island. His only real contact with the outside world is the restaurant owner where he eats every day. That is until he meets Caroline, an artist who intrigues Daniel both for her beautiful art as well as her charming personality. Because Daniel is so reclusive, he is unwilling to trust anybody very easily and his fears of being discovered on the remote island come to fruition when an investigative report hunts him down. Daniel finds solace both in the words he writes as well as the journal of his grandfather, Jonathon Langham.
In 1935 a writer named Jonathon Langham is summoned to the cottage of his editor Jasper Carnegie, along with fellow writer Edward Vaughan to witness a strange phenomena. Carnegie has everything planned for his friends and almost tortuously reveals what he wishes to show his friends. When he brings them to a clearing in Hopton Wood, Langham and Vaugham behold a portal to another world that appears strange, wondrous, and alien. Repeated viewings bring a visitor in the form of a dwarf-like alien on the run from aliens of another race who are hunting him. This meeting, of course, has a great impact on Langham, Vaughan, and Carnegie such that they are friends for the remainder of their lives.
On one hand, revealing more of the plot would really spoil the novel for readers. Brown takes things down interesting, and sometimes, unexpected paths. What I can say is that Brown captures both the remote island setting of 1999 with Daniel Langham very well as well as the upper crust society to which his grandfather Jonathon and girlfriend Carla belong in 1935 London. Even the styles are different, for when Brown focuses on Daniel, he employs a third-person omniscient narrative whilst the sections featuring Jonathon (since they are his diary) a first-person accounting of events. In both, the feel is powerfully inviting, and it pulled me through the story at a very brisk pace allowing me to devour the final 100 pages in about an hour. The feeling was evocative and I truly felt as a fly on the wall observing everything that unfolded.
Kings of Eternity is the type of SF novel that should appeal to many readers. It has enough science fiction-y goodness for seasoned readers; conversely, it doesn’t thrust the reader into these elements unawares at the beginning of the story, thus lulling the reader into those elements; and perhaps most importantly: fully-rounded and believable characters. Though I didn’t completely like Jonathon all the time while I was reading, he felt real and I could empathize with him. The same goes for Daniel, though I did enjoy his company more. Brown, like I’ve said in a number of my reviews of other writers, allows the world and events to unfold through his characters. As I implied, this is all the more enjoyable since those characters are so alive and believable.
The novel that I’ve most recently read that I would most closely compare The Kings of Eternity is Robert Charles Wilson’s superb Julian Comstock. The writers have similar style, especially in these two books and both books were compelling accounts of the past, but also the at times haunting echoes unsaid by the characters.
I should also point out the beautiful cover by Dominic Harman, who has illustrated a number of Mr. Brown’s novels for Solaris. The cover has that “I must know what happens” feel to it and really encapsulates the feel of the novel (and quite possibly one scene) superbly.
This is the second novel I’ve read by Mr. Brown, the first being Helix, and after reading this book, I feel a great impulse to devour everything possible by him. The Kings of Eternity is SF of the topmost order – inviting to readers who may be wary of the genre while also highlighting the greatness of the genre thus appealing to long time readers of SF.
I give this book the highest possible recommendation and rank it as one of the top 2 or 3 SF books in 2011 at this point of the year (June 2011).
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford