I think the most important thing for me to say up front is that KJ Charles also liked this book and if you won’t take my word for it, listen to KJ Charles. Please go buy it, or request it from your local library. I received this as an arc from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve thought a lot about how to describe this treasure of a book. I keep coming up with movies for comparison. Imagine if Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, Blade Runner, Momento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had a baby, and the baby had it’s own internal glow. May Peterson blends the alienation, gritty mystery and corruption with an ethereal lightness. It’s equally lush and spare.
Ari died and as happens sometimes in this world, came back to life as a dove-soul. He has wings, the ability to heal, and no memory of his life before a couple of years ago. Many people come to the mountain city of Serenity to lose their memories or to seek life after death. The lack of memory, not knowing himself, leaves Ari numb and disconnected. Ari meets Hei and feels a pull of attraction. As Ari tries to piece together who he is and how Hei fits into his life, he comes to see the corruption in Serenity.
Hei is seen entirely through Ari’s eyes. It takes a bit before Hei becomes a multi dimensional character, because it takes awhile for Ari to see him that way. Ari initially thinks he is sweet, tender, and vulnerable. Hei is all of those things, but he is a sweet, tender, murder baby. Hei has come to Serenity looking for two people and vengeance. Hei’s passion is like a beacon in the mist for Ari. It gradually becomes clear that Ari and Hei were lovers before Ari died and Hei has come to avenge his death.
The Eternal City is as much about love as it is about trauma. Ari’s lack of memory makes him vulnerable to manipulation, but he still chooses Hei. Despite the amnesia, he has a bone deep connection. It made me think of visiting my Granny in her later years when she didn’t remember me. She would start telling me stories about her brown-eyed great grandbaby who she loved so much. She didn’t know me, but I made her think of someone she loved and that made her happy. I bring up this personal anecdote because Ari’s connection to Hei doesn’t feel like a “fated mates” situation, but like a muscle memory. It’s never that Hei and Ari are meant to be together, but that they choose each other. Hei chooses the Ari that doesn’t remember him, and Ari chooses Hei even when he is uncertain of Hei’s motives.
This isn’t a light book, but for all the trauma it delves into, it never feels heavy. I really hope this book finds it’s audience. I would like to read more May Peterson.