The Eternal Heir
by Liv Viola
Genre: Fantasy / Urban Fantasy
Print Length: 292 pages
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
A stunning dive into an underground vampire world around Berlin and across Europe
After Ava meets an interesting couple at a bar one night, she does not expect to wake up in the middle of nowhere, bleeding and craving blood. It turns out they’d been stalking her; they believe she’s the missing piece on their path to enact revenge against the reigning vampire matriarchy. They’re so set on their goals that they give Ava no choice: She’s already turned into a vampire by the time she wakes up and spends much of this book held in isolated captivity in preparation for their plan to commence.
Ava is a means to an end for their rebellion effort, regularly threatened and manipulated into believing the cause so that she goes along with it.
What makes this book so fascinating? She starts to believe them! Sure, it’s partially because she has no choice and because she’s starting to trust the man guiding her, but all the while, we, as readers, do not trust any of it.
For most of the book, we don’t know what the truth is, who is actually lying, or about exactly what. The group says they have information about Ava’s family, which is intriguing to her. She has tried for years to find any trace of them. They say she’s an heir to the vampire throne, but she is at risk of being punished the way the rulers punished her mother. We don’t even know if the fate they’re claiming happened to her mother is true. Readers will be engrossed in each scene, thrilled to sink their teeth into all this delicious drama.
Author Liv Viola’s immersive, wildly impressive prose is the key to all this. The writing is sublime—rich, weighty, as hypnotizing in its clarity and impact as the red wine (and fresh blood) that Ava and her captor drink throughout the book.
The Eternal Heir opens like this and simply never stops dazzling: “After one hundred years, Jean-Pierre could finally taste the subtle notes of sweetness in retribution. The flavor played on his tongue like the rediscovery of a long-forgotten cherished wine, swirling and sliding across his taste buds, his whole being waiting in anguish to relish the perfect finish. The century of waiting had been split into brightening shades of obsidian.”
Jean-Pierre is the vampire who has been stalking and then attacks and enacts the holding in captivity of Ava. He becomes Ava’s closest companion in her isolated existence as a vampire. Although he is very clear that they are not friends—he is her guard and teacher for this very brazen plan—the edges between them blur a bit. She calls him Jae and can’t help but trust him, alongside some fluttering feelings of attraction.
Jae accompanies her for the etiquette classes and combat lessons she needs to blend in when they infiltrate the vampire court. He engages in a sword-fight training scene that builds on the chemistry between the two. Jae is Ava’s guide into this world where she feels like she’s stepped into TV shows and novels she’s very familiar with—and he’s correcting her at every step of the way.
She finds that she has a heightened speed, strength, and varied abilities like learning languages. “Every fiber of her was electrified, every muscle able to pulverize diamonds with the slightest flick of a finger.” She learns that she can pick up skills quicker than most due to her bloodline, including skills like mind control of humans—though it’s much more complex than that: “The act of entrancing is not as simple as mind control. It is mesmerizing the subject, enthralling their mind, and penetrating deep into it.”
The trouble comes when she begins to feel not only attached, but thankful, for his support along the way—blatantly forgetting that she’s only in this situation because of him! And that he is still holding her captive and abiding by the rules of his organization to manipulate her into working with them.
Jae is a seriously compelling, flawed, and intriguing love interest. He is deeply passionate yet conflicted; principled and committed to the cause, but suspicious of its leaders’ secrecy, and (most exciting for readers who love a romantic sub-plot) more than happy to be rebellious when it comes to making Ava happy for a moment. It also delighted me to find several scenes implying that he’s queer, with a character who is likely his once-beloved ex-boyfriend and that his vampiric escapades include seducing men into allowing him to drink from their necks while they make out.
To be clear: The Eternal Heir is not a romance novel. Ava is violently kidnapped twice in this story, in the exact ways and with many references in the text to the fears women have about being attacked in our reality. This is the major theme of the text: She is taken and turned into a vampire—robbed of her life, her routines, her job, and any hope of having a child before she’d even considered whether she may want one—as a tactic to get her to comply with a centuries-long plan to overthrow a violent and oppressive vampire matriarchy.
There are flashes of a potential romance, in touches and lingering looks, smiles barely breaking through the serious mask of Jae’s serious demeanor—and this too speaks to author Liv Viola’s excellent writing, because even when it’s one sentence in the chapter, it’s an incisive, heart-fluttering one. But these are all within the context of her being the victim, being held captive, being told half truths about her family history and her place in this plan so that she will comply.
Ava has no choice but to trust (to a degree) what they say. Agreeing to help them is the only way she will survive and have a chance at learning about her family. She has no access to other people outside of their circle, or even permission to be in a location outside of the mansion she’s locked inside for the majority of the book. This is an unsettling and uncomfortable story, because you know you can never trust anyone, while you feel Jae and Ava wanting to trust each other—and as a reader we are so wary of that happening. But we are also desperate to know both the truth behind Ava’s situation, and how their relationship will play out.
The pacing of the first and final thirds of the book are much more rapid and focused on moving the plot forward, where the middle of this novel is mostly (gorgeous, swoon-worthy) worldbuilding. Again, the author must be commended because it’s some of the most exquisite and captivating worldbuilding I’ve ever read, and it truly is written for those of us who have been introduced to fantasy worlds of fictional vampires in various other tales, but it doesn’t feel as though much is happening to progress the mysteries we become most invested in. Also, we are set up with expectations of very specific issues, themes, and relationships, but the ending takes a turn that shocks but feels a bit out of left field. It is thrilling to read nonetheless, and I would likely pick up the next book in the series to find out where in this unexpected universe Ava will find herself. The final line of this novel is also incredibly cool, opening up many unpredictable possibilities and setting up an electrifying sequel.
Content warnings are necessary for murder, drugging, assault, kidnapping, torture of humans, mild drink and drug use, and of course vampire shenanigans like neck breaking and blood sucking (The phrase “A sound like teeth biting into a crisp apple sounded over pleas, then muffled screams” comes to mind!).
I would recommend The Eternal Heir to readers who enjoy the kind of worldbuilding that feels like it’s happening right before your eyes. The Eternal Heir will be especially fun if you have read other fantasy books where people suddenly find themselves in a world they know a lot about but didn’t know was real (some parts of Ava and her experience reminded me of Clary Fray of The Mortal Instruents series). Anyone who likes vampire TV will be thoroughly entertained by this spellbinding story.
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