Eric Brown is a prolific author of thirteen novels to date, a number of short story collections and novellas, all of which are on the Solaris label. His latest, Kings Of Eternity, is almost ten years in the making and is Brown’s most ambitious novel to date.
Primarily set on a small Greek island in 1999, we follow the story of Daniel Langham, a successful author who lives a reclusive lifestyle whilst watching the world go by and constructing his latest masterpiece. From time to time, people come into his life, but his private nature often seems to drive them away. He’s wary of strangers and, though popular amongst the island’s residents, he leads a loveless and lonely life until he meets the artist Caroline, with whom he falls in love.
Alternate chapters focus on the mundane life of Jonathon Langham, a writer from 1935, who’s caught up in a tempestuous, though disappointing affair with a stage actress, and the trials of a father suffering from a life-threatening illness. Called upon to investigate an incident at a friend’s mansion, he discovers, along with his two close friends, Jasper and Edward, a portal to a distant planet and an alien life form that will change his life forever.
The two threads of the story, seemingly unconnected at first, come together over the course of the book, leaving us with no doubt that Daniel’s decisions are driven, not by selfishness, but by disappointment towards the world around him. From Jonathon’s journal, written from 1935 to 1990, we discover the threats that exist in a world beyond our own, but also that exist from trust and faith on Earth, whilst Daniel must contend with his changing life and the hazards around him, as he tries to remain stoically isolated and apart from the world around him.
The big reveal, partway through the book, is well handled and, whilst it may not come as much of a surprise, Brown doesn’t overplay it, nor does he insult the intelligence of the reader. It explains Daniel’s attitude and the reason why he does what he does. It also allows us to see why the journal is so important to this Langham, allowing him, it seems, to remain grounded in the world without being truly part of it.
To be honest, this book was a difficult one to read, at least initially. For the first seventy or so pages, neither Daniel’s nor Jonathon’s story was really engaging, as we went through their dull, dull lives and experienced Daniel’s isolation and Jonathon’s despair at his lack of success.
Thankfully, the book finally takes hold when the portal makes its first appearance, an alien comes through and the group discover the benefits and dangers that they must face. Conversely, we have the suspicious activities of a reporter seemingly intent on unearthing the truth about Daniel and the emerging love of his artist friend, Caroline, along with the devastating secret that she holds.
Interestingly written, with distinctly different styles between the journal and Daniel’s story, The Kings Of Eternity does suffer from moments of being overwritten and, occasionally, repetitive. Being three hundred and nineteen pages long, and rather drawn out in places, the book suffers from a feeling that the story doesn’t really reach its full potential.
In the second half of the book, Jonathon’s journal skips whole decades, covering the events fleetingly. There were so many opportunities to stretch out the story, especially given the events of the world between 1935 and 1990. Perhaps, one day, we’ll find out what happened to Jasper on his journey that spanned far more time than his friends’, especially as he seems to have a really fantastic story to tell!
Despite being considered science fiction, the book doesn’t really feel like science fiction until the second half. Even then, Brown doesn’t force genre clichés upon the reader, preferring to explore what it means to be a ‘King of Eternity’ and the risks and sacrifices each must take.
Towards the end, we’re treated to what could be considered the most conventional moment of science fiction, and there are smatterings of this style throughout. But on the whole, Brown seems more interested in telling a story of human emotion. It is powerfully written, especially towards the well crafted comclusion that leaves us not knowing whether or not a particular decision is made and a new world embraced.
If you haven’t read Brown before, it’s definitely worth starting with this one. Be prepared to overcome the problems and you’ll find an enjoyable novel that manages to be interesting and, at times, emotionally engaging.
The Kings Of Eternity is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.