The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North

Urban fantasy has made me dislike the use of first person narrative and nobody should ever get me started on the subject of The Time Traveller's Wife, so perhaps a story about time travel wasn't ever going to be an easy sell for me? Still, I'd heard Claire North speak at a small local SFF festival and the concept behind The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August sounded intriguing, so I thought I'd give it a try.


The basic premise is this, that there are people among us (called the kalachakra, or ouroborans), who are continually reborn - not as other people but as themselves, returning to their own childhood with all the memories and knowledge they have accrued in previous lives. Harry August is one of these, though understandably his discovery of the fact does not mean that he initially has an easy life, as that discovery happens early enough in a new life to mean that balancing previous knowledge and just being a child is a difficult thing.


Alongside the individuals, there is a loose organisation of such people called the Cronus Club, who pass messages in both directions, so that information can effectively travel through time. A few lives in to Harry's existence, a message comes back to say that the end of the world is approaching a lot more rapidly than it ought to and something has changed - it's at this point that Harry is let into the secret that this isn't the first time accelerated technological change has threatened the future and that drastic measures were taken by the Cronus Club against the individual in question, eventually tracking him down before birth and making sure he never lived.


This time around, Harry discovers that the threat comes from someone he knows and finds himself initially recruited into the very activities that are threatening things - spending a significant chunk of time in the middle of Russia - before throwing all his energy into preventing the oncoming disaster instead.


To be honest, Harry is a bit of an anti-hero and gets up to a variety of things which are unpleasant or worse. For example, in one life he discovers the identity of a man who has killed a number of women and Harry takes it upon himself to pre-emptively kill that individual in each life he lives after that discovery. Still, to my mind, any of these actions are less offensive than the outright grooming that goes on with the girl in The Time Traveller's Wife... no, I'm going to stop that rant right there.


Anyway, I very much enjoyed The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and will definitely keep an eye out for Claire North's books in future, though avoiding first person if at all possible. It works for this, because really there'd be no other way to write about consecutive lives without being 'inside' them but that still doesn't mean I like it very much!