(This is a spoiler-free review of an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)

“The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” by Claire North is a fascinating mix of “Groundhog Day” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” with some time travel thrown in for good measure.

The protagonist, Harry August, is one of the rare people who are unable to truly die: as soon as their body dies, their life starts over with the same parents, the same childhood, the same world – except this time they have a lifetime (or 15 lifetimes) of knowledge and experience to draw back on. As Harry August dies for the 11th time, a little girl warns him about the impending end of the world…

The novel is beautifully crafted: the author not only came up with a fascinating concept that’s very rarely seen in science fiction, but developed it and fleshed it out to such an extent that the book’s universe seems quite believable. We get glimpses of other immortals (or ouroborans, as they call themselves) and the many, many different ways they spend their endless lives. We get cautionary tales of what can happen if somebody tries introducing advanced technology centuries before its time. (Alternate history fans will love that part.) We see the best and the worst that strange immortality brings out in regular people – and how they deal with it.

The person writing under the pseudonym of Claire North, whoever he or she truly is, did a marvelous job when researching the book: as a Russian immigrant, I can attest that the chapters that take place in the USSR are absolutely believable, which isn’t something I can say about a lot of books that pick exotic locales just for the fun of it.

One of the best things about this book is the witty internal narrative by the protagonist, with small hilarious quips and observations. Consider, for example, “I was out of shape, having never been in much of a shape to get out of” – or “if Pietrok-111 was a one-horse town, Pietrok-112 was the glue factory where that horse went to die.” But by far the best feature of the book (at least in my opinion) is the way the narrative loops upon itself, much like the ouroboros itself – but you’ll have to read it for yourself to figure it out.

This book raises many interesting philosophical questions and will keep fans of hard science fiction (or time travel fiction, for that matter) on the edge of their seats.

Score: five stars

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