Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Book Review: Touch by Claire North

Pros: fast paced, complex, interesting morally ambiguous characters, thought provoking, several international locales

Cons: took a while to get into

When Josephine Cebula is gunned down at Taksim station, the ghost riding her flesh jumps to a new host in order to follow the man who, though obviously after the ghost and aware it left the body, for some reason made sure that Josephine died.  It’s quickly apparent that a secret organization is hunting ghosts, and ‘Kepler’ is their current target.

The book begins with a murder and catapults you through several countries in various bodies as ‘Kepler’ (named so by its hunters) tries to figure out who’s after it and why.  Flashbacks to earlier lives show other murder attempts, other lives, other ghosts and how they all deal with the flesh they wear.  

The idea of beings that can transfer between bodies isn’t a new one, but North does some great things with it.  I loved that the ghosts were all individuals, treating their flesh in different ways.  Some, like Kepler, are respectful, learning about them, and offering them money and improved circumstances for the time they lose.  Others are less concerned with the humans around them, wanting to glory in the achievements, beauty and wealth of others without putting any effort into learning the skills necessary to achieve anything of their own.  I liked that the ghosts can’t access the memories or abilities of their flesh, meaning they can pretend to be that person, but only with effort on their part to learn the habits and skills of their borrowed flesh.  I also liked that the people they take over have no memory of what’s happened to them.  This allows them to be tracked while also making what the ghosts do - stealing time from their hosts - more insidious.  Kepler argues at one point that most people don’t care - or are even happy - to lose an hour or two of their lives, especially when working or doing boring tasks.  Few people would even notice if they were taken over for a minute or two, long enough for the ghost to get lost in a crowd.  But consider the ghost that stays for 6 months or a year.  What about 10 years?  Or 30?  Who’d be ok with losing that amount of their lives? 

And what happens when you’re effectively immortal, but unable to have a home, loved ones, possessions?  What does that kind of lifestyle do to you after hundreds of years, when you’re constantly moving from body to body, running from hunters or just bored of who you are?  

The book asks some tough questions as none of the primary characters - except the main antagonist - is entirely good or evil.  There’s so much grey area and you really get to know - and like - the characters that it’s hard to remember that this all started with a murder, and that Kepler, who seems so kind and loving, has done some horrible things in its past - depending on your point of view.

Because there’s so much to learn about the ghosts, the killer and the plot, I found the opening slow.  Not in terms of things happening, but in terms of trying to get a handle on everything that was happening.  By the time I had a grasp on things I was thoroughly invested in Kepler and so drawn into the story that it was hard to put the book down.

I’d recommend this for book clubs as there’s a lot of discussion possibility here.  And if you like action and mystery with body hopping protagonists, give this a try.

Out February 24th.

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