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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August Paperback – October 21, 2014
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"I don't say this lightly but The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is one of the top ten books I've ever read."―James Dashner, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Maze Runner
"An astonishing re-invention of the time travel narrative. Bold, magical and masterful."―Mike Carey
"A thoughtful and considered time-travel novel, shocking twists and, most important of all, a beautiful character. Harry August will break your heart fifteen times."―James Shurin
"A subtle study of friendship, love and the complexity of existence."―Eric Brown, Guardian
"Wonderful novel... held together by a compelling mystery involving nothing less than the end of the world itself. Beautifully written and structured...a remarkable book."―Booklist (Starred Review)
"A tremendously entertaining ride... You're sure to enjoy the trip."―Toronto Sunday Star
About the Author
Claire North is a pseudonym for Catherine Webb, a Carnegie Medal-nominated author whose first book was written when she was just fourteen years old. She went on to write several other novels in various genres, before publishing her first major work as Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, in 2014. It was a critically acclaimed success, receiving rave reviews and an Audie nomination, and was included in the Washington Post's Best Books of the Year list. Her most recent novel, Touch, was also in the Washington Post's Best Books of the Year, in 2015.
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First, the bad: I will say that, at points, this book gets caught up in its own brilliance and comes across as a little pretentious and heavy-handed. At other times the author seemed to deliberately choose the most confusing possible way of getting an idea across, and a few pages I had to reread several times to understand (most of Vincent's conversations with Harry, especially at the beginning, were this way). Some of the more emotionally weighty moments were given a bit TOO much weight and, rather than being memorable in the way of a beautiful view, are instead memorable in the way of getting slapped rather sluggishly with a wet towel.
That said, I was so enraptured that, when I finished this book and realized it was nearly five-hundred pages, I was stunned, because it hadn't felt nearly so long. It takes a while to get going -- the first half of the book is world-building and exposition, but done so exquisitely and with such originality that I found that I didn't really care where it was going, only that I was along for the ride. The book regains its focus at about the halfway point, where all of the exposition from the first half suddenly clicks into place -- I feel the ending of the book would not have been nearly so powerful had the author not taken as much time in the beginning to give her story weight.
What I dismissed in the beginning as a failure to explain the mechanics of her world was instead a vital piece of Harry's moral struggle -- we don't know how the kalachakra work, but neither does he, and what is the price of finding out? Similarly, scenes whose point I did not understand turned out to be vitally important for Harry's development and decision-making -- anything involving Phearson, for example -- and because of these scenes, Harry is remarkably well-developed for a character who spends half the book pretending to be a blank slate.
The characters are very complex, the plot is complicated but fairly easy to understand, the world is wonderfully strange. There's so much to chew on in this book, and quite a lot to parse, both thematically and narratively. This book comes together at the end so beautifully that I was tempted to immediately start a second read-through just to put it all together a bit better. It has its rough points, and perhaps could have been streamlined better, but the overall experience was so exquisite that I have to give it five stars.
Two aspects of this novel reminded me of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. The more lives August experiences the more detached he becomes from ordinary human emotions, and his nemesis and friend Victor, another Ourobouran, has already become a complete sociopath, much like Rice’s vampires after they have lived a few centuries. Also, the first few years after he is reborn, while he is physically a child, he is emotionally an old man, like Rice’s vampire Claudia, who became a vampire as a child.
I loved this book. I thought the writing was superb and the plot and characters were engaging. Harry is a likable and intelligent narrator you won't mind spending time with.
Written like a flowing river that takes you in and makes you at home and then shows you what rapids and waterfalls can do to your soul. Excuse the metaphor, but the book is fantastic.
There is a litany of reasons why I feel this way that would ruin so many poignant or nail-biting scenes for you that I wouldn't want you to miss out on, fellow readers, but trust me when I say that if you cannot accept what an amazing book this is, the problem is your own. Of the fifty or so novels I've read this year, "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" is far and away the most impressive.
The author created a world where everything ought to be predictable, and then spends the latter half of the story highlighting the arrogance and folly of thinking the world is predictable, even if you've lived a dozen or more lives.
No matter what Harry goes through, he is still human. Just like you and just like me.
Do yourself a solid and get lost in this story, you will not regret it for a moment.
Most recent customer reviews
Nonlinear chronology, some time world building, eventually it becomes a cat and mouse of sorts.Read more