The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Claire North 2014)

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This is a book which I picked up at random a few months back, a frequent occurrence. This was probably one of the more intriguing, though I do say that a lot. The book revolved around the titular Harry August, who is forced to relive his life every time he dies alongside a secret society of others who are just like him. Yet he is different since unlike the others he is able to remember everything from all his past lives, a rare gift even amongst his kind. For most of his lives nothing seems to change until at the end of his eleventh life a girl appears to deliver him a message from the future. The world is ending and sooner than expected. Someone is altering history. At the centre of it all this is the mysterious Vincent, someone whom Harry must work to stop.

The book is interesting because the amount of depth of into the secret world of the Harry August and the people like him. The rules about travelling back are very detailed and carefully examine every issue one would expect to crop up when travelling back through time. The most clever issue is that of memory, the human mind simply cannot deal with centuries worth of memories and most people inevitably start to lose memory of some past lives, with Harry being one of the rare exceptions. They can also lose memory of all their past lives depending on the circumstances in which they die. The story is clever in that it not only establishes these rules but also uses them in very clever ways that made me appreciate how clever and thought out this story is.

The most clever use is the system by which Harry August and the others like him are able to pass along messages, which works since the system works along a large cycle where every traveller gets one turn at reliving their life per cycle. As a result they are able to pass along messages to travellers older than themselves so they can take messages to people in the past. This is how Harry is able to receive the message about the end of the world in the first place, since the little girl is presumably a traveller who has had the message passed along to her by someone from further along the timeline, who in turn has had the message passed along to them by someone even further along and so on. Both Harry and Victor are able to use this trick to their advantage in order to create circles of influence far beyond their natural lifetime.

The most interesting development is how the characters’ attitudes towards their eternal reincarnations develop, shown through various side characters and through Harry himself. They all show a certain degree of passivity towards death and the events of their childhood, all of which they have had to live many times. It is fitting that by the end of the novel, they are concerning themselves with events that occur even outside their own lifetimes, as if even that is only a minor inconvenience at best. In all, the characters are very interesting as a result.

Narrative wise I was a bit confused at the beginning and couldn’t quite follow the timeline of events since the narrative would shift, though after a while it settled down. However I found myself spending too long for the real action to begin, with a fair amount of the beginning spent establishing Harry August’s history and back story before catching up with the main plot. As a result I spent the first portion of the story slightly confused, but as the plot progressed I found myself satisfied with the explanations I was given and that was enough to redeem things in my eyes.

Overall the story is probably one of the best I’ve read in a while. There isn’t a whole lot that I can say against it, even if I felt a bit confused at the beginning. The narrative is very clever and I dare say this probably one of the best time travel related novels I’ve read in a while. It’s rules and logic make sound sense and as I read it, there weren’t any logical inconsistencies which I picked up on. I found myself drawn in by both the plot and the characters of this novel. When I finished the book I wasn’t disappointed and simply wished I hadn’t finished it so quickly. A very good book and one I would recommend to anyone. One of the best sci-fi books I’ve read for a while.

SCORE: 4.5/5

IN A WORD: DETAILED

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