Read as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (Task: A Sci-Fi Novel)
Some novels start off brilliantly and then tend to tail off in the second half. This book does exactly the opposite. It took me a long time to get into the book, but then the pace picks up at an astonishing rate.
Harry August is a kalachakra, meaning that he lives multiple lives; each time he dies he is born again in exactly the same place and time. The actions he takes as he grows up and regains memories of his previous lives are up to him, but things always start the same.
Harry isn’t the only of his kind – there’s a whole club of them; The Cronus Club. The stuff of legend and folklore, “Like the Illuminati without the glamour, or the Masons without the cufflinks, a self-perpetuating society spread across the ages for the infinite and the timeless.” The Cronus Club keep themselves to themselves, discreetly looking after their own kind through a network which spans the globe and the generations.
Harry is minding his own business through his relatively uneventful multiple lives, until one day, on the deathbed of his eleventh life, a little girl visits to deliver him an important message, passed down from the future. The world is ending, and the end of the world is getting faster.
Throughout the first couple of hundred of pages, I nearly abandoned this book numerous times, something I barely ever do. Whilst the book is obviously well-written and intelligent – topics tackled include history, politics and science – Harry has a number of centuries worth of lives to update us on, and at times it was a little too much information to take in. The blurb of this book would have you think that the world ending is imminent within the first few pages, but in actual fact Harry doesn’t get to the part about the little girl’s visit until about halfway through the book.
But I didn’t give up. I read on and, eventually, my perseverance was rewarded. Once Harry receives his mysterious message, and his nemesis is identified, the story morphs into a gripping cat-and-mouse thriller spanning multiple countries and lifetimes.
At the heart of the story is the relationship between Harry and Vincent Rankis. Meeting first as student and mentor, and then in multiple lives taking on many different guises, the two are locked in a deadly battle of wills and wits. Whilst they are simultaneously plotting against each other, the two clearly also carry a mutual respect for each other, each quietly admiring the other’s deception. The dynamic between the two was fascinating to read and gave the story a more human touch.
One issue I had with this book was Harry himself. Considering how many lives he’s had, he is a bit dull. One of his fellow kalachakra even questions him on it at one point – “For fuck’s sake Harry, what did the world do to you to make you so…blank?” But I don’t think this was a weakness on the writer’s part. Instead, Harry’s bland personality means he can perfect mould his his character, adapting different careers, personas and agendas from one life to the next.
All in all, I’m a little lost about what to say about this book. I have a feeling that it was very good, but perhaps a touch too much of it went over my head. Harry is intelligent but tiresome. The writer weaves in all manner of scientific theories and conspiracies, and historical landmarks too, but for me the characters themselves were a little weak. There were some thought-provoking parts – the way the Cronus club passed messages through the generations was so clever I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got my head around the whole concept. I wish the Cronus Club had been explored in more detail, as I love a good secret society.
This book was a mixed bag for me. Points of it almost had me abandoning it, points I wish were explored more but Harry’s multi-life chase of Vincent was executed perfectly.