The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August announced the arrival of a very special talent. Claire North maybe the pseudonym for Catherine Webb (and Kate Griffin), who has already published a number of books, but Harry August was something else entirely. It was bold, intelligent, gripping and mind-blowing. Before the real identity of the pseudonym was revealed I was prepared to believe that Claire North could have been any already majorly established author, the writing was that good. With her follow-up novel, Claire North not only confirms that she is worthy of comparison with established authors, she leaves them all for dust.
The premise alone of Touch is enough to give you goosebumps. Where Claire North takes it is places you couldn’t possibly imagine. The main character, who we become to know as Kepler, is able to transfer their consciousness between bodies with only a touch. Kepler has lived for centuries. Changing bodies at will. Staying for a time in a life they find interesting, others only fleetingly. Kepler has taken over bodies when hired to and has been a facilitator for others with the same ability. But now someone wants Kepler dead and they don’t care how many hosts they kill to achieve the task.
Touch is an intensely gripping cat and mouse game where the mouse inhabits the cat and vice versa. Kepler must work out not only who wants to kill them but why. Kepler does this by inhabiting/kidnapping the would-be assassin across Europe following leads and clues back to a mysterious organization hell-bent on tracking down Kepler’s kind.
Claire North slowly builds the rules of this universe where some people can transfer bodies simply by touch. But where there are rules there are those that wish to break them and where there are people different from the rest there are people who want to eliminate them. Claire North also imagines all the possibilities that go along with this gift which takes on some truly mind-bending situations. North’s imagination is seemingly bottomless as she conjures up ingenious methods of escape, subterfuge and counter-measures. Which means you are not only kept guessing but totally unprepared for where she takes you which makes the book even more entertaining and thrilling.
The tension and stakes slowly build as we slowly get to understand who and what Kepler is. How their life has shaped and tortured them and the mistakes made along the way. The mistakes that are now coming back at every different angle. The intensity builds and by the closing stages of the book you can hardly keep up but Claire North makes sure you do.
Not only is Touch totally addictive it is also totally un-gendered. Kepler could be male or female. In fact throughout the book Kepler is both and has swapped between genders their entire life. The other ‘ghosts’ as they are known do the same thing so become undefinable by gender. They’re not male, they’re not female. They’re both and they are neither. And in the end it doesn’t even matter. Which frankly is perfection and just one example of Claire North’s skill as a writer and storyteller.
Seriously I cannot get over how amazingly good Claire North is. I could have read this book forever.The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was so smart, Touch is beyond genius. This will be one of THE books of 2015. Mark my words.