Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

review by Maryom

Harry August's first life was fairly uneventful, much like any other life - until he died and found himself re-born, back exactly where he was the first time. As an adult trapped inside a child's body, he didn't find his second life much fun...but then he started to understand, found there were others like him, and settled into a pattern of being born, living seventy years or so, then dying only to be re-born.
Now at the end of his eleventh life, a warning has been passed back from the future that the world is in danger. Its life too is ending, as it is bound to one day, but at an unprecedented early era.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August has been cropping up regularly on social media any time the book-conversation has touched on time travel and/or reincarnation, so, spotting it at my library, I thought it was time to check it out myself.

In a similar vein to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life it's not about time travel as such, but reincarnation into the same body. Harry is one of the "kalachakra" who return time and again to re-live their lives. Having discovered that major events can rarely be changed, most of them have adopted a hedonistic lifestyle funded by time-traveller's style insider dealing and bet-placing, leaving global events to play out on their own. Some though like Harry have acquired over their many lives a mass of scientific knowledge spread over many fields - and one rogue kalachakra is placing everyone and everything in danger by his pursuit of knowledge and power.
This mix of philosophy, sci-fi and thriller makes for an amazing read. It stretches the reader's imagination in the way that Life After Life did, raising thoughts of what would it be like to live an infinite number of times, to have the opportunity to try on different careers, loves, or lifestyles, against a race-against-time "will the hero save the world' backdrop. It starts excellently, grabbing the reader's attention instantly with hints of the catastrophe that must be averted, and continues well, darting back and forth across Harry's lives, building a personal rivalry between him and the 'villain'. The only slight let down, hence not quite the full 5 star read, was the ending, with the said villain changing from a believable searcher for truth and power into a Bond-style bad guy caricature, lacking only the swivelling chair and a white cat.

Definitely a book that deserves a re-read to see how the plot elements slot together, though I suspect knowing the ending may detract from it.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Orbit
Genre - Adult, sci-fi, time travel, thriller

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