Monday, December 22, 2014

Living 15 Lives

A flight delay and the 2.5 hours from Seattle to Los Angeles meant I could easily finish Claire North's 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August'. It's the genre I love. Claire North, is really Catherine Webb, who is also known as Kate Griffin, a contemporary fantasy writer I'm a huge fan of. This is not an unfamiliar plot. But it's terribly enjoyable because of the way it's narrated. (Reviews here, here and here.)

Originally Harry August, he lives lives over and over, physically as a normal human being from birth to adulthood to death. He's not immortal, he dies. But his memories of past lives stay with him from the moment he attains consciousness. Apparently by age four, for most. So he's not prescient but by virtue of having lived over and over again by being born in different eras, he's aware and remembers historical and economic events. He's a kalachakra, or ouroboran. There's a club of people like him, called the Cronus Club, with this unique ability and composition. He's rare among his type because he's also a mnemonic. Most will get dementia and start to forget by the time they hit a few hundred years old in terms of memory age, not physical age. He never forgets.

[Well, kala and chakra respectively refers to time and cycles, derived from Vajrayana Buddhism, which is still practiced in mainly Tibet. Ouroboran references 'ouroboros', the Greek symbol of a serpent eating its own tail, like the phoenix or scarab, depicting re-birth, or return.]

For the first 10 lives, it's all about Harry August's personal lives, birth, growing-up angst, his personal studies, formal education, acquisition of knowledge, also perhaps forming his character and accepting what he is. The eleventh is when it starts to get exciting when he finds out about someone destroying kalachakras and trying to change the history of the world. He gains a nemesis who's a fellow mnemonic, Vincent Rankis. That was when Kindle told me I was 30% through the story. Okaay. The only way to kill a kalachakra is to prevent one from being born. To kill a foetus in-utero. That's why his mentor warned him to never reveal the specifics of his birth. Of course at some point, the world would be in jeopardy of ending, Cronus Club members are being exterminated and terminated, and it would be up to Harry August to save the world. 

The Cronus Club in my fifteenth life was not the Club of my first eight hundred or so years. Its members were coming back, those who had survived Virginia's purges. Those who had been forced to forget were now on their third lives, and the messages were slowly trickling back through the generations - the Club of the twentieth century is back, and we have dire warnings for all. Messages were received in carved stone from the 1800s, enquiring after us, asking what had happened to the Club to cause the twentieth century suddenly to go so quiet. The messages from the future were darker, passed down from child to pensioner, whispered back from the twenty-first century. 
In our last lives, the voices said, the world was not the world we knew. Technology had changed - time had changed - and many of us simply were not born. We haven't heard from the twenty-second century at all. We have no idea what happened to them. Please leave your answers in stone. 
So the effect of our calamity rippled forward, spreading its wave through time. I dared not give an answer to the future Clubs, not even a time capsule sealed for five hundred years' time. The risk of it being discovered by Vincent in this time, of him learning how close we were to pursuing and punishing him, was too great. I would not risk the safety of everything I had sought simply out of compassion for a century I had not seen.

No comments: