The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Warning.  This post contains spoilers.  I will give you a big, bold, spoiler alert before the spoiler.

Harry August is born, lives, and dies.  Like all of us.  Unlike the rest of us, though, after his death he is born again.  Reborn in the exact same place and time that he was born the first time.  He lives, he dies, he is reborn.  Again and again and again.

The first time he is reborn, he thinks he is mad.  Wouldn’t you?  Imagine that as a young child, you have complete memory of a previously lived life.  If you tell your parents, your teacher, your doctor, the best case scenario is that they believe you have an overactive imagination. Worse and possibly more likely, they think that you are psychotic or possessed.  Depending on the time in which you live, you may be drugged, lobotomized, or even burned at the stake. The second life is never a good one.

Harry narration takes us through his search for answers and his discovery that there are others.  Others is where the story gets interesting.  One of the others is Vincent Rankis, the man who eventually becomes his best friend and his nemesis.  The one whom he must destroy to prevent the destruction of the world.

Others is also where the story starts to make my head hurt.  One man who dies and is reborn indefinitely is complicated, but I feel like I can understand how that might work. I see two basic scenarios.  First, in each life, he has free will and therefore can set different forces in motion than in previous lives, but one can imagine that there is some self-correcting mechanism so that the overall course of history is still unchanged.  That might look something like this:

time-02

The second scenario is that each time he is reborn a parallel universe is created.  So that a branching off of reality occurs with each of his lives creating different, but parallel futures.  These are scenarios I can wrap my head around.

BUT

There are others. And with the introduction of others, my ability to conceptualize how their endless rebirths fit together falls apart.

AND

It is made clear through the course of the book that there is no self-correcting mechanism.  Note that the butterfly effect appears not to be in evidence in this book.  There is a general tide of human history and changing it appears to require intent and effort, but it can be done.  Most of those that call themselves ouroborans are careful not to take actions that can have deleterious affects on future generations.  There is one, however, that believes that the fate of billions of humans is not as important as the knowledge he seeks.

The story is interesting, the characters are great, and the author moves fluidly between Harry’s lives, mostly forward, with occasional digressions into the past and it all works beautifully.

NOW FOR THE SPOILER AND THE PART WHERE MY BRAIN GETS A LITTLE BIT BROKEN

Vincent is driven to find the answers to the question of his existence at any cost.  His quest is bringing about the end of the world.  Harry August works tirelessly across several lifetimes to stop him.  Before he can stop him, though Vincent kills many other ouroborans (the only way to kill a ouroboran is to prevent them from being born) and causes others to forget (chemical or surgical lobotomy can cause a ouroboran to lose all recollection of previous lives and their next rebirth will be, for them, their first).  Eventually, Harry succeeds in learning about Vincent’s parentage and preventing him from being born.

Does that mean then that all of the ouroborans he killed won’t be killed?  Do the others regain the memories that were stolen from them? But… I…

I can’t wrap my head around the timeline(s).

Early on in the book, Harry wonders whether he may have inherited his ouroboran nature from his biological father.  While this is never definitively ruled out, it appears not to be the case, but the possibility nearly broke my brain.  What kind of a convoluted looping tree diagram could possibly contain the alternate realities in which an ouroboran father lives infinitely many lives and in an infinite subset of them fathers an ouroboran son?  *mind blown*

 

I am keeping a complete list of the books I read in 2016 here.  I’m always looking for suggestions.

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