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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August Paperback – October 21, 2014
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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SOME STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME Harry August is on his deathbed Again No matter what he does or the decisions he makes when death comes Harry always returns to where he began a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before Nothing ever changes Until now As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life a little girl appears at his bedside I nearly missed you Doctor August she says I need to send a message This is the story of what Harry does next and what he did before and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow
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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.
Harry August is someone who has had multiple lifetimes. Known as kalachakras, the circumstances of their birth are always the same. They don’t realize they’re different from 'linear people' during that first life. It’s during the second one, when they’re born again with all the memories of their prior life, that they start to notice.
As Harry lies dying at the end of his 11th life, he receives a message from another kalachakra, passed between generations and lifetimes from a thousand years forward: “The world is ending, as it always must. But the end of the world is getting faster.” One or more kalachakras had tampered with events and hastened the end of the world. Harry goes searching through time--and several lifetimes--to find who was responsible and to stop them.
I liked this book, although it was not what I expected, I thought it would be a light, maybe whimsical book about adventures Harry encountered as he experienced multiple lives. Instead, it was a dark, complex, philosophical story. What is the point of me? Harry asked himself. “When I am optimistic, I choose to believe that every life I lead, every choice I make, has consequences. That I am not one Harry August but many, a mind flicking from parallel life to parallel life, and that when I die, the world carries on without me, altered by my deeds, marked by my presence.” Many of us question the point of our lives, and we have only one to live. How would we behave if we had more than one?
The author is successful at making her premise plausible, and has a good writing style. She smoothly switched between Harry’s different lifetimes in a way that carried the story forward. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a good story that provides food for thought.
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.