There’s an old saying by Robert Heinlein (or by one or more of his characters): “It steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time.” Technological advances — and implicitly, other changes, such as social ones — will happen when a certain weight of events and situations accrues, irrespective of the individuals involved. The steam engine would have been developed around that time with or without Stephenson; the radio in its era even without Marconi, and so on.
By that token these few years seem to be time-jump-story time. For here we have a story that, superficially at least, is very similar to Life After Life, which I wrote about last year as part of The First Three Books of the Year.
The similarity is that we have a character who lives his life, dies, and then lives it all over again. The major differences in this case are that he remembers his previous lives; and that there are others like him.
Also in this one the characters — some of them, at least — question their situation, wonder about how and why it happens. They make use of their gift or curse. As such it is more a work of SF than Life After Life was.
Claire North, we are told at the start, is the pseudonym of a British author. Turns out it’s Catherine Webb, of whom I’ve written before, here. I see that I was critical then of her plotting, and the ending. The current book is much stronger in both regards.
Though it’s not entirely satisfactory. I find it slightly annoying because — and I’m moving into spoiler territory, so you might want to stop reading — while the people who have this affliction — members of the Cronus Club, or kalachakra, as they are called — do ask some questions of their situation, the only one who really tries to explore, to investigate, to understand it: he’s the bad guy. The engine of the plot is to preserve the status quo.
True (within the book, and probably in reality), messing with the status quo — trying to make significant changes to the way historic events play out — tends to make a big mess of things, because history is too complex for anyone to really understand all the causes and effects and so guide it. But Vincent, the antagonist in question, is at least trying to gain some understanding. An alternative to trying to stop him might have been to work with him, but find a less destructive way to do it.
On the other hand, of course, that would have made for a less interesting, less fun story. And as it stands, this is both. So I can’t really complain.
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