The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

It is said that there are three stages of life for those of us who live our lives in circles. These are rejection, exploration, and acceptance.

Published by Redhook, 2014, 405 pages.
Edition: Redhook, 2014, 416 pages.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August pleasantly surprised me with its original take on immortality and time travel. The story is about people who are called the kalachakra because their lives are a never-ending cycle. Once they die, they immediately wake up anew on the date of their birth but retaining the memories of all their previous lives. The novel is an interesting exploration of the possible psychological implications of such a life/lives that are marked by loneliness and a lack of meaning.

As suggested by the title of the novel, the story focuses on the first fifteen lives of the main protagonist, Harry August, and explores the advantages and disadvantages of his condition, because, even though his immortality allows him to learn from the experience he has gained and the mistakes that he has made in his previous lives and live his next life differently, he struggles with the lack of meaning in his life. It was interesting to read about the effort that he has to put into maintaining the illusion that every one of his lives is his first.  He also has to be very careful and responsible in using his knowledge of future events.

Eventually, he meets other people that suffer from the same condition and thus remember their past lives and have significant knowledge of the future that some people may want to use for evil purposes. They also have to confront the individual moral dilemma of accepting and refraining from interfering with the course of history or science. In order to help and keep an eye on each other, these people create the Cronus club, the purpose of which is to prevent kalachakras of potentially abusing their power and using their knowledge and immortality to change the course of history or science that could lead to the end of the world. As you may expect, there is no consensus among the members of the Cronus Club as to how their powers should be used, and the discussion on this issue becomes the central theme of the novel.

The author has created very interesting characters, each with their individual motivations and flaws. They are not just heroes or villains, but complex personalities and the reader can relate to the arguments that are put forward by both sides. The long, philosophical discussions between Harry and Vincent on the responsibility of an inventor are particularly striking and memorable.

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The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

The shadows of Ina-Karekh are the place where nightmares dwell, but not their source. Never forget: the shadowlands are not elsewhere. We create them. They are within.

killing moon
Edition: Little Brown, 2012, 418 pages.

The Killing Moon surprised me with a very original magic system and a masterfully crafted world that was inspired by the ancient Egyptian and Bedouin culture. In the Gujaareh city-state, the highest law is peace, that is ensured by the Gatherers, priests who worship the dream-goddess Hananja and practice a form of magic that is based on dream energy.

Each of the main characters, Ehiru, the talented Gujaareh Gatherer, Nijiri, the priest’s apprentice and Sunandi, an emissary from a neighbouring state are all multifaceted characters, who come from different cultures and social classes, and each of them has his or her own convictions, mission and inner conflict.

However, apart from the interesting world-building, magic system and the characters’ personalities, the book was very slow paced and failed to hold my interest, once my initial fascination with the world had waned.  All the way through the book, I was waiting for some surprising twist that would make the plot more exciting, but, unfortunately, I was left somewhat disappointed.

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Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

The fool strikes. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes.

Published by Harper Collins Voyager, 2014, 376 pages.
Edition: Harper Collins Voyager, 2014, 373 pages.

Half a King, the first book in the Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, was one of my most anticipated fantasy releases of the year and I’m happy to report that it was worth waiting for it to read about this interesting Viking-inspired fantasy world, full of plot twists, witty dialogue and Abercrombie’s great sense of humour. Of course, since this is a young adult book, the usual grittiness that we have come to expect from “Lord Grimdark” is somewhat toned down.

The main aspect of the book that I loved was the nuanced character development of Yarvi, the disabled son of the ruler of this land. Yarvi and his companions are all well-rounded and multifaceted characters that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. In most fantasy novels that I’ve read, the dominance of the central character is usually based on his physical abilities, however, in this book, Yarvi’s strength lies in his clever mind and talent as a political strategist. Since this is a story about political machinations in the highest echelons of the kingdom, the book is very realistic in its portrayal of the kinds of decisions (often questionable) that Yarvi makes in order to achieve his aims. The book is great at building suspense and you can feel that the characters are racing against time, in contrast to some other young adult fantasy books that I’ve read, where the characters seem to have unlimited time, amidst saving the world, to deal with their relationship dramas.

Even though this is only the first part of a planned trilogy, it felt like a self-contained story, which you can enjoy without reading the rest of the series, however, I’m intrigued to know what happens next so I will be continuing on with this series.

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