Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August  –

Claire North


The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, like the first book I read last time round, a sci fi novel at its heart. The eponymous protagonist is a kalachaka, or an ourobouran. That is to say that each time Harry dies, his life resets and he begins again with all memories of his past life intact. The concept is a fairly easy to grasp one for the reader, though Harry finds it much harder, and the first quarter or so of the book is a bit of a harsh, if incredibly gripping, introduction.

Once he does get into the swing of things, so does the plot, which is I suppose a rather unsurprising “end of the world” scenario. Unsurprising, because when the protagonist is essentially immortal, what other central conflict can a story have? The thing about Harry and his ilk is that they can be Killed with a capital K, or alerts alternatively they can be made to “Forget”, which means they begin their next life with no knowledge of their pasts. Often this is done voluntarily by those who have grown too world weary and wish to start afresh, but it can also be done maliciously.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Anyway, as Harry begins to investigate, he becomes a major factor in this world ending scheme, and then through the use of a helpful (and more importantly believable) deus ex machina, shifts to trying to save it and undo his work. It’s all very tense.

Except it isn’t really. It’s gripping in a “stay up til one in the morning reading” sense, but there is never any sense that Harry might fail. For one thing, the book is written in the first person past tense, and there is no hint of failure in the narrative. Secondly, the title gives it away, as Harry clearly had more than fifteen lives, but the plot only tells of the first fifteen. As I said it was a good reading experience, just fairly pedestrian.

On that more, the book itself reminds me quite a lot of The Flame Alphabet, in that both protagonists, while talented, seem to take mostly pedestrian roles in the quest to save humanity when working alongside brilliant and dangerous mystery men. I think Harry is less of a wet blanket than his counterpart, and only seems to be a little flat due to the books presentation as a semi-epistolary narration. The plot also make more sense, so between the two, I’d definitely recommend The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

Claire North has apparently written a number of books under a number of different names, which I look forward to reading. It just won’t be for a while, as I’m going to try not to repeat any authors this year.

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