Would you want to live forever? This book isn’t the first media to ask that question, directly or not; two major ones spring to mind, namely Doctor Who and Harry Potter. In Doctor Who we have a few different versions of “immortality”, all being imposed on the character without their control: the Doctor, whose Time Lord biology allows him to regenerate (and whose regenerations and general shenanigans may have allowed him to regenerate indefinitely); Captain Jack Harkness, resurrected by the Bad Wolf; Ashildr, resurrected using technology by the Doctor at Clara’s prompting; Clara Oswald herself, pulled from the moment of her death by the Doctor with different technology; possibly the Doctor’s “daughter” Jenny, as well, as she shares the Doctor’s biology. In Doctor Who, immortality is bestowed by others but never acquired by one’s own interest. In Harry Potter, the choice is more active- Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes and Nicholas Flamel’s philosopher’s stone are both intentional, but these choices can (and are) undone. In “Eternal Life”, Rachel’s situation is different, and all the more stark for it: she made a vow, and now she has to live with the consequences. In the Who-verse there are others to blame; in the Potterverse there are loopholes to exploit. Rachel has neither, and can only live with her regrets and fatigue.
There is much more to the story than that, of course; at its core it’s a story about family and choices, about living with your past and looking ahead to your future. The historical elements are well done without being dry or overbearing, and Rachel is an interesting character. I do wish we’d been able to see more of her lives, more glimpses into different pasts, and though the tension with Elazar is curious it’s not quite as compelling once all the facts are laid bare.