Touch, by Claire North

Buy from, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – Feburary 24, 2015

Summary: Kepler had never meant to die this way — viciously beaten to death by a stinking vagrant in a dark back alley. But when reaching out to the murderer for salvation in those last dying moments, a sudden switch takes place.

Now Kepler is looking out through the eyes of the killer himself, staring down at a broken and ruined body lying in the dirt of the alley.

Instead of dying, Kepler has gained the ability to roam from one body to another, to jump into another person’s skin and see through their eyes, live their life — be it for a few minutes, a few months or a lifetime.

Kepler means these host bodies no harm — and even comes to cherish them intimately like lovers. But when one host, Josephine Cebula, is brutally assassinated, Kepler embarks on a mission to seek the truth — and avenge Josephine’s death.

Thoughts: North has this wonderful knack to turn idle daydreams of mine into full fleshed-out stories that are darker and more complex than I ever tend to deal with in my own mind. First with The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and now with Touch, I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked on North’s insightful and downright poetic writing, and her ability to turn a simple “what if” into something brilliant.

Kepler is a ghost, transferring from body to body by a touch, flitting from one person to another and leaving them with no memories of the time when someone else was in control of their body. Kepler has been around for centuries, sometimes inhabiting a host for years, sometimes only a few mere seconds. This is how it’s always been, until one day everything changes, and Kepler is being hunted by a group that wants to eliminate ghosts and their takeovers. Only it’s not quite as simple as all that, and there’s a larger mystery afoot.

For all that pains are taken to leave Kepler’s original gender out of things, to me, Kepler reads as very much male. I can’t quite put my finger on why, and possibly I’m dead wrong, but that’s how the character came across to me. Very little is said about Kepler’s origins, only their mode of dying, and that heightens the mystery and leaves you with no concrete answers by the end. And what I love is that it doesn’t really matter. Kepler is Kepler. Even by their own definition. Kepler is whoever is being inhabited at that moment. Male or female, it makes no difference. There is no preference. It seems to be quite similar for many of the other ghosts that are encountered through the novel, too. I like that notion, that gender is a thing that ceases to mean anything after numerous decades and numerous hosts have passed. When you can jump into any body and live whatever life you choose, having one hard-and-fast gender that you must be for any length of time does seem a little bit too rigid a notion to keep around for long. North did wonders with expressing that without saying it outright, or trying to beat the reader over the head with the idea.

The mystery itself, of who is behind the attempted assassinations of ghosts (for ghosts can actually die if their host bodies die and there’s nobody else to jump to), is interesting, though for all that there are assassination attempts, the book isn’t a very action-heavy book. There are a few scenes, yes, but most of the novel involves discovery and contemplation, with plenty of flashbacks for context and to keep the reader jumping around almost as much as Harry August did. It’s not quite as nonlinear as that, but it does have a large number of flashbacks, all of which do provide wonderful context and backstory and flesh out the characters and the situation a lot, and the way North handles it is skillful and deft, so while it may be a little tough for those used to more linear stories, I find that it works very well to tell numerous branches of a long story that are all coming together at pivotal points.

I mentioned earlier that North has twice written novels about concepts I’ve daydreamingly entertained myself with over the years. I’m somewhat obsessed with the notion of immortality, in the sense that there are multiple lives I would love to live and remember, so many things that I want to do that I don’t think I could reasonably fit them into a single life. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August tackles one aspect of that, while Touch tackles another. Living your own life over again versus being mentally immortal and being able to take over a body and living whatever kind of life you can make for yourself. Both involve large amounts of money (which translate to freedom, in a sense, because some things you just can’t accomplish in a timely fashion without a lot of funds on hand), which is handled as well in this book as the one before, and just as realistically. So thus far North has written 2 books that appeal to me on a very deep and personal level, and she explores the ideas in ways that I hadn’t previously considered and that are far more complex and realistic than my little daydreams ever allowed for. I kind of love these books for that reason alone, that they feel like they were almost written specifically to appeal to someone with exactly my kind of mindset, and as such there’s a lot of wisdom and things to reflect on that I take away from Touch. Perhaps more than the author even intended.

All this is why even when the plot slowed down or got a little too tangled in itself for a while, I loved Touch. It’s a fascinating exploration of character, of what people can do when they’re given the chance to live forever and lead any kind of life they want, from any point, so long as they can find the appropriate person to take over and be. The writing is beautiful, the story intricate, the characters endlessly fascinating. It questions what we accept as normal and forces us to bend our minds around an entirely new viewpoint. Utterly amazing, and well worth reading for anyone who wants to submerge themselves in a unique and powerful story.

(Received for review from the publisher.)