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Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North


Everyone is probably familiar with the good old ebook backlog. I tend to start planning my Bingo with those to try to knock at least a couple off the list, but between being a mood reader, ARCs and more kindle sales…well. At least I managed it with this one. Even though I wasn’t really in the mood and probably wouldn’t ever be, it was perfect for the Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey square. In the end, I am left with mixed feelings. While the premise was interesting enough to keep me from DNFing, the characters and parts of the plot were underwhelming to say the least.

The titular Harry August is one of the kalachakra or ouroborans, people who simply get reborn as themselves again after they die, with their memories intact. But at the end of his 11th life, he is informed by a younger ouroboran that the end of the world is getting faster, closer with each life, and that the later generations are simply never born. But maybe Harry knows how to prevent it.

Though I wasn’t too excited by the premise before I started it (wouldn’t being forced to relive your life get awfully boring?), it grew on me within a few chapters. It was quite interesting to see how the concept of some people reliving their lives with their memories intact was explored along with its implications.

But I was not nearly as taken with the characters. Harry is bland to the point another character called him out on it, amoral in a boring way, with no significant relationships. This is, of course, a problem, since the narration is first person. He’s too clinical, too detached, and most other characters are barely one-dimensional, with barely any page-time. Even when his rival pops up, I thought they’d…I don’t know, have more rival chemistry going on than they did? Because otherwise what’s the point?

The plot also wasn’t exactly flawlessly executed. Especially the ending felt rushed, with one of the antagonists feeling unnecessary and suddenly pulled out of nowhere, and the other, the far more foreshadowed and expected one, only being defeated because they caught the Idiot Ball right before the end. It didn’t make sense. It felt too easy.

(I should also mention that it’s a very, very dark book. It starts with how the protagonist’s mother was raped, and Harry himself gets graphically tortured for information at least two or three times, badly injured, abused by psychiatrists, probably more I don’t remember.)

Do I recommend it? I’m not sure. It’s quite highly regarded and you might vibe with it better than I did. But for me, it did not quite live up.

Enjoyment: 3/5
Execution: 3.5/5

Recommended to: those who like time fuckery
Not recommended to: character-focused readers, those who hate it when plots hinge on the otherwise-competent antagonist making one stupid, out of character mistake

Content warnings: graphic torture and lots of it, psychiatric abuse, discussions of rape of August’s birth mother

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