The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a fantasy / science fiction novel by Catherine Webb, writing as Claire North. It tells the story of a bastard boy born of a servant mother who was raped by the master of the house, then kicked out of the house when her pregnancy began to show. She died in childbirth, leaving him an orphan.
Unlike the story of many children born into such awful circumstances, this one has a twist—every time Harry dies, he is born again in exactly the same situation, fully recovering the memories of his previous lives by the age of six. Thus, while is a child in every life, he is never again a child in mental terms at that point.
His life goes through stages similar to those of someone who learns he has an incurable disease—denial, madness, a search for answers, and finally, acceptance. He learns more with every life, new languages, the outcome of important gambling events, etc., and finds a club of similar people who help him make the adjustment during the difficult childhood phase, when he has limited freedom because of his appearance as a child.
All goes along swimmingly until he meets a man who wants to change the world. And therein lies the central aspect of the book—his friendship with this man and the conflict that results from his efforts to change the world.
North tells the story in a first person narrative. The beginning part is a little slow and confusing due to multiple digressions into many different timelines and lives. However, it quickly settles into one main narrative, with periodic digressions, which makes it more of a page-turner. The only other minor flaw is that the author occasionally slips in her contemporary political views, which interrupts the flow of the story a bit. Nonetheless, it was a highly entertaining story that went at the various paradoxes of time travel from multiple angles and explored it in a fresh way.
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