Take the timeloop premise of Groundhog Day (et al), apply it to lifetimes, add a few neat worldbuilding twists, break things up with a cataclysm coming back through time… and you have The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. I love all of those things, so of course, I love this book as well. :D
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.
Characterwise, Harry August is fascinating. We see him grow up and eventually die, only to be reborn again, just as he was the first time… only within a few years gaining all of his first live’s memories. He knows what’s going to happen, but in knowing, how much changes? And how much stays the same? It’s fascinating seeing how it breaks him and eventually how he grows into the roll throughout his (as the title suggests) first fifteen lives–with almost as many centuries of memories.
Worldbuildingwise (potential spoilers), the cool concept in this book is that there is an entire hidden society of these people–those who live again and again–throughout history. Eventually, the band together to support each other, getting them out of the worst of childhood–imagine being 10 with lifetimes of memories…
As it was, the same knowledge which protected me from the world was in later times also to put me in great danger and, by this route, indirectly introduce me to the Cronus Club, and the Cronus Club to me.
But the coolest part is that time is flexible. So they can pass messages through time, either by writing them down or by telling them to the youngest members who will live the longest, lifetime after lifetime. And even cooler… you can send messages back. Have someone currently in the young end of one life tell someone about to die and reset decades or even a century earlier and you’ve sent a message back through time. Do that enough times… and you can do anything. So cool.
Over time, Hoeness’s remarkable utility as a primary historical source led him into correspondence with future Cronus Club members. Questions would be posed from the early 1800s or twentieth century, relayed back down through time from the child of the 1850s to the grandfather who would be a child again by 1780, who could then pass it back to the grandparent of the 1710s and so on and so forth until, with as few generations as possible to corrupt the message, one of his own time could put the question to Hoeness directly.
Plotwise, the first chunk is all about discover. We’re learning right along with Harry how this world works. And what he or anyone can do to bend or break their imposed rules… and eventually what harm that might very well cause. How do you fight with someone who has the same ability to be born again and again?
A great book. Well worth the read.