Book Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_sudden_appearance_of_hopeThe world began to forget Hope Arden when she was sixteen years old. Her father forgot to drive her to school, her mother set the table for three instead of four. Her teacher forgets she’s a member of the class. Friends slowly but surely forget she exists and look straight through her.

Drifting away, leaving home and fending for herself she finds herself stealing to survive, fencing what she steals. Everybody forgets what she looks like which she uses to her advantage but makes her dangerous. She moves in circles and a world that then uses her talents to their advantage.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the complex character that is Hope Arden. I found myself imagining what it would be like to be totally forgotten even minutes after meeting someone. It’s a fascinating read, with a twist that I didn’t see coming.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Sudden Appearance of Hope
by Claire North
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356504537

Book Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

cv_the_first_fifteen_lives_of_harry_augustThe first thing that struck me about this book is its fantastic, attention grabbing title: I bet Kate Atkinson’s publishers are kicking themselves they didn’t think of it first for Ursula Todd’s many lives and deaths in Life After Life.

The second thing that caught my eye was the author’s name, which we are told from the book’s blurb is a pseudonym. Nothing piques my curiosity like reading a great novel (and this one is great – I’ll get to that in a moment) but not actually knowing who the person behind it is. Fortunately for me, a quick Google and the answer was revealed: Claire North is prodigiously talented fantasy novelist Catherine Webb who, at just 28 years of age, already has a slew of books to her name – the first written at just age 14. She’s also no stranger to writing under an assumed name, having done so as Kate Griffin for her adult book series.

So we’ve got a jump-out-and-grab-you title and a talented and a prolific and talented author: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August can’t go wrong, right?

Right!

Harry August is a kalachakra: when he dies, he is always reborn to the exact same time and place – England in 1918, as the illegitimate son (the product of rape) of a British nobleman who is raised by the aristocrat’s gardener. While kalachakra retain the knowledge and understanding acquired in previous lives, Harry is also a mnemonic – meaning he retains with perfect recall everything he learns, sees and hears.

Rose_garden_1918_Gret_foster

The Rose Garden at Great Fosters, designed in 1918

These are rare and sometimes troubling, even dangerous, gifts. No more so when, at the end of his eleventh life as he lies dying in hospital, a message from the future, relayed through time by other kalachakra, is delivered to him. Someone is altering the events of history, the world is ending and Harry needs to stop it.

It’s a total cliché to say I was hooked from the first page, but I really was. How could you not be with a premise like that? And it’s a set up the novel delivers on fully. It starts with a fantastic protagonist in Harry – he’s real but conflicted, eminently likable but also fallible. His story of essentially saving the world unfolds in a non linear fashion through the novel, jumping through time and his other lives but somehow never once becoming confusing, overblown or messy. The unique plot device of Harry’s many lives and his faultless memory adds a unique depth to his character. He’s supported by a cast of well formed, intriguing characters and a villain I didn’t see coming.

As for the story itself, there’s murder (quite a bit actually!), historical drama, war, love, espionage, criminal underworlds, mind games, gambling and wealth, staggering technological advancements, ravishing greed, betrayal, and a secret, shadowy organisation of kalachakra called the Chronus Club. All of this is tautly delivered in a pacy, often wryly humorous and meticulously researched novel that is thought provoking too.

I think everyone who reads this book will at some point ponder what they would do, for good or for evil, if reborn over and over with all memories intact. Maybe Claire North’s time travelling, suspenseful and compelling novel might change your mind on that.

Reviewed by Kelly Bold

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780356502564