Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Claire North
Completed 10/14/2015, Reviewed 10/15/2015
4 stars

I like time travel stories.  This one had a great twist on the basic trope.  Harry is an ourobaran, or kalachakra.  When he dies, he’s reborn back into his body to relive his life, keeping his memory.  What’s more, he’s a rare mnemonic, he remembers everything.  So do you take advantage of that to change your life, or do you change the whole future.  At the end of his eleventh life, Harry finds out that the world is ending, and it’s probably caused by a fellow ourobaran.  Harry must make his own decision of whether to come to the seduction of changing the world, or fight to let it evolve on its own. 

The first thing I thought of was the movie “Groundhog Day”, but instead of being doomed to relive the same day, it’s your whole life you’re reliving.  The first rebirth is traumatic.  Imagine being a 4 year old coming to understand that you’ve already lived a life and have all that knowledge.  Fortunately, there’s a secret society of other people like you to help you through this, assuming they find you before you go nuts. 

North has some pretty strong world building for this.  There are certain laws, like you’ll always die of the same thing, though the exact timing may vary.  The lives of the rest of the population known as the linears, and most world events will still happen with some minor variation unless with your knowledge, you begin to interfere.  That’s the source of the morality for the ouroboran, determining whether you use your powers for good or evil, and even that can be ambiguous and circumstantial.

The book is really well written.  If it wasn’t, it would have been a mess to understand.  North jumps between Harry’s lives in the narrative, the main thread following his first few lives, then from the eleventh life on, with anecdotal stories from his other lives.  I’ve seen reviews of people who were confounded by the timeline jumping, but I found it easy to follow.  The whole setup of Harry’s first few lives is quite a page turner.  Then when that started to slow down for me, the plot of saving the world from the rogue ourobaran kicked in and brought the pace right back up again.

I give this book four out of five stars.  I think the concept is excellently executed.  It’s fast paced and really interesting.  There’s a lot of really dark humor and smattering of existential reflection.  How could there not be when in your eleventh life, you’re over 800 years old.  That’s a lot of time to think.

1 comment:

  1. I snagged this as a cheap ebook awhile back because of great reviews, and this one makes me want to get to it as well. I too like time travel stories, and new or different twists on them are intriguing, even if I do like the well worn trope versions too.