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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

I’ve started to wonder what constitutes “fantasy” fiction. Does anything supernatural count? On the back of The Magicians’ Land by Lev Grossman there’s a blurb that extols this trilogy as the “best fantasy series of the decade” which I thought was fairly bold as it’s going up against George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. Heresy! And a lot of the Magicians’ world is our world, so while I thought that “fantasy” meant a totally made-up world, maybe not. Which means that my definition of “fantasy literature” has expanded greatly. (About review blurbs on books: on the back of Lock In by John Scalzi one of the reviewers wrote something about his ability to “write a commercial novel.” MeOW.)

Does time travel literature count? If so, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North is definitely one of the best fantasy-time-travel books I’ve ever read. The premise is that there are certain people, known as “ouroboros,” who live an entire life, then die and are reborn in exactly the same place and time, but with all the memory of their former lives intact. Apparently the first time this happens the person goes insane, which is reasonable. But after that they begin to understand and take advantage of the unique situation in which they find themselves; investing, piling on degrees, etc. They also find other ouroboros who look after them from an early age, winkling them from their parents with a story about special schools, etc. It’s an interesting concept and the novel is very well-written. It’s fairly literary but really skips along. Of course danger looms, and the way in which the main character prevails is brilliant. This is one of those books that impress me mightily with the author’s smarts. Do some people know a lot about science, or what?

Fantastic book.

(BTW, Lock In by John Scalzi is very good too. It’s a sci-fi mystery and very enjoyable.)

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