Review: TOUCH by Claire North (Redhook/Orbit)

NorthC-TouchA triumphant second novel

Your violent death usually triggers the first switch.

Just before your life ebbs away, your skin happens to touch another human being – and in an instant, your consciousness transfers completely to the person you touched.

From that moment on, you can leap from body to body with a touch of the skin. You can remain for a minute, an hour, a lifetime, and after you leave, the host has no memory of the time you were there.

My name is Kepler. I could be you.

For me, the carefree life of jumping between bodies has become a terrifying nightmare. I am being hunted. I don’t know who. I don’t know why. If you’ve read this far, our lives have already touched. Now you are part of the conspiracy too.

Get ready to run.

Claire North’s debut, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, blew me away. It has easily become one of my favourite novels. It was with great anticipation and trepidation, therefore, that I began Touch. I needn’t have worried, though. This is another fantastic novel, one that gripped me from the beginning and didn’t let go. North is my new favourite author.

Touch didn’t grab me quite as fast as … Harry August, but this was probably intentional: the opening chapters are a fast-paced dash from a murder scene, as Kepler hunts down the man who killed his host. It was a bit trippy, therefore. Nevertheless, I quickly become oriented, and got sucked in to the mythology North has created. She never gives everything away, and expertly avoids info-dumping and clunky exposition. The novel is so fluid, so exceptionally well written, that I was pulled through, staying up well into the wee hours of the morning to get just a few more chapters read before exhaustion took me over.

Kepler is a fascinating creation — the way the “ghosts” operate in the world, either maliciously and selfishly flitting from body-to-body, life-to-life, or making use of “estate agents” who can help steer a ghost to the type of host they are most looking for. There are also “gophers”, who knowingly give up their bodies for short periods of time to ghosts, on the understanding that they won’t doing anything untoward with it. There is also an element of horror involved with ghosting, though, as it completely subordinates the natural consciousness. I really liked the way North didn’t forget about this fact, when later a character tells us of the accidental end of a decades-long occupation. Over the course of the novel we meet a handful of other ghosts, and through their conversations with Kepler we learn of their pasts and experiences. It’s fascinating.

As with The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, North weaves a number of relevant philosophical observations into the story: questions of identity, life, ambition and happiness. This novel is utterly engaging, addictive, and thought-provoking. The characters are superbly drawn, their interactions realistic and engaging. You feel for Kepler, and also the bodies it inhabits — we’re never given a completely clear origin story for Kepler, which I rather liked: kept some of the mystery going, and allowed for small nuggets of information to be dropped throughout the course of the novel.

Another marvelous novel. If you haven’t read Claire North’s work yet, then I urge you in the strongest terms to rectify this post haste. Simply superb. I can’t wait to read what she does next.

***

Touch will be published in the UK and US by Redhook/Orbit, on February 24th, 2015. Claire North is a pseudonym for Catherine Webb, who is also Kate Griffin. Under the latter name, she wrote the Matthew Swift trilogy (published by Orbit) and two other novels set in that urban fantasy world.

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7 thoughts on “Review: TOUCH by Claire North (Redhook/Orbit)

    • I’d recommend Harry August, too – marvellous writing and characters. Not my usual thing, either, but probably my favourite book read in 2014 (if I had to only choose one). I’ve recommended it to everyone I know, now. This one has more action in it, certainly, and is a little stranger. But loved it. Absolutely loved it.

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