Currently I’m five books into Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books, but it’s been a while since I posted an update here, so I thought I might take a moment to review something I read about a year ago: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. This was a clever twist on time travel, with where the protagonist lives a normal life and dies, but is then reborn, right back at the same starting point, repeating the same life over and over. Gradually he makes friends and learns of a larger community of people with the same ability.
Title: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Author: Claire North
Narrator: Peter Kenny
The concept throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the usual time-travel story. There’s no glimpse of the future. No way to go deep into the past. This is also an opportunity — the usual time travel cliches are neatly avoided. But it does mean that another kind of story has to develop in its place.
What develops here is a story about a society that works to protect the timeline. Participants with this ability, who can never leave their own span of days (Harry’s runs from 1919 to 1989), join together in an organization that connects to other participants in the past and future. Since participant’s birth and death periods overlap, messages can be passed into the past of future, so that efforts can be coordinated. The story emerges that something awful has happened in the future, and no further contact is possible with participants past a certain date. This leads to an intruiging effort to discover what has happened and prevent it from taking place.
Some have compared this with Groundhog Day, which has a similar story. Also Steven Grimwood’s Replay is frequently mentioned in these discussions (I’ve not read it, but it’s on my list). Still, I think North adds something new and interesting here. I think she also deserves a little credit for not stooping to the allure or a trilogy here. Good stories don’t always have to be pushed out into a full series.
Peter Kenny does a solid job on the narration with this mid-length (12 hour) work. I believe Kenny is known mainly for covering most of the Iain Banks catalog, including most of the Culture novels. He did a wonderful job on the classic “Player of Games”, which is a must-listen audiobook.
I’ve not read anything else by Claire North yet, but I’ll have to keep an eye out. This was quite good.