When I read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North last month, I was completely blown away by what I now consider one of the finest genre novels of the last few years, but because of scheduling issues I had to write my review for the author’s newest novel Touch before getting to Harry August. (You can find this review here.) Unfortunately, by the time I’d written that review, the two novels had sort of merged in my head, to the point where I’d now have to reread Harry August to be able to write a decent review.
There are after all some obvious similarities between Harry August and Touch, most notably the fact that they both deal with immortality, albeit in very different ways. There’s a circular form of immortality in the former: upon “dying”, Harry is immediately born again, under the same circumstances, to the same mother, on the same date. By contrast, in Touch the protagonist’s immortality is linear rather than circular: he can transfer his consciousness to another body by a simple touch.
Both of these novels are brilliant, but The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is without a doubt the better of the two, and one of the best genre novels I’ve read in years. It was also the first novel I listed on my Hugo Ballot this year.
Because of all of this, I feel a bit inadequate about still not having written a proper review, and so I am going to cop out by just linking to Paul Kincaid’s excellent review on Strange Horizons. It says many of the things I’d like to say, but in a much more coherent and thoughtful fashion than I could ever dream of.
So. Go read his review, then go buy The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and read it. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.
Persona by Genevieve Valentine is an excellent novel. This probably will come as no surprise to those of you who have read the author’s two previous, critically acclaimed novels, Mechanique and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, but as a newcomer to Valentine’s works I was quite blown away. (I should probably add that, based on feedback from friends and on those two books’ blurbs, Persona appears to be very different from her earlier work.)
Persona starts off in near future Paris, where Suyana Sapaki is about to cast a vote in the International Assembly (IA). Suyana is the “Face” representing her country in the IA, which means she has virtually zero decision-making power: she is a figurehead, a glorified spokesperson who says what she is told to say and votes the way she is told to vote.
Touch by Claire North took me completely by surprise. I’d never heard of Claire North. (Yes, I know. More about that later.) I hadn’t seen much pre-release buzz about the book. I don’t think I’d ever read a book from (Hachette imprint) Redhook before. I frankly thought the blurb sounded a bit too standard-horror-ish, but I picked it up anyway to try a few pages and see if it could draw me in.
Am I ever glad I did. Touch is a gloriously dark and almost perfectly executed novel. (More about that “almost” later too.) It’s so good that I set out to get the author’s first novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, even before I finished Touch, and then read it before I got around to writing this review, deadlines and work and sleep be damned.
I was entirely unaware of this author until I crossed paths with Touch. Since then, I learned that Claire North is the second pseudonym of Catherine Webb. Webb has by now published sixteen novels, eight of them under her own name, six as Kate Griffin, and now two as Claire North. She was born in 1986, which means she’s under 30 years old as I’m writing this. She apparently wrote her first novel when she was only 14. Discovering all of this after just having read two of my favorite pieces of speculative fiction in years was nothing short of mind-blowing for me.
(I obviously haven’t read any of the novels she wrote as Webb or Griffin yet. They seem very different from her work as Claire North: YA for Webb, and more traditional fantasy for Griffin. Whether it’s the author’s decision or the publisher’s, I can definitely understand using different pseudonyms to compartmentalize these three very different styles of fiction.)
Well, I completely forgot to announce the winner of the Karen Memory giveaway from, oh goodness, has it really been almost weeks now? Sorry about that!
Without further ado, the winner of this giveaway is:
Getty H. from Dallas, TX
Congratulations, Getty! Your copy of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear will be sent to you by the kind people at Tor Books.
For those of you who didn’t win, stay tuned as I hope to have several other great giveaways coming up soon, as well as the usual slew of reviews and SF/F-related ramblings!