You might meet him in a hospital, in a warzone, or at the scene of traffic accident.
Then again, you might meet him at the North Pole - he gets everywhere, our Charlie.
Would you shake him by the hand, take the gift he offers, or would you pay no attention to the words he
Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which.
Comment: This is the third book by Claire North I try. The others have given me mixed feelings and I liked one better but the fascinating element one can find in her novels is also found in this one: the ability to be provocative with a premise that should be bonkers but that turns out to work rather well. Sort of...
In this book the idea is that the four horsemen of he Apocalypse can and do act on the human world. They even hire human Harbingers, who travel all over the world to visit some specific people for all kinds of reasons but usually because whatever that person represents can be important. The man character is Charlie, the Harbinger of Death and while his work is reverenced and respected by some, it isn't so by others but one thing is certain, Charlie does take his job very seriously, even when it puts him in danger...
Again, what an idea for a book...the author really knows how to invent scenarios where she can exploit her thoughts. I believe is more than safe to share that the goal of this book is to make one think about the role of Death in our lives and what sorts of repercussions we all face knowing our life will end at some point. As always, it's the path to that moment that matters...
I liked Charlie for a protagonist. He is a sweet, honorable man, conscious of trying do do a good job, always presenting himself as expected, his role is one of courtesy or one of warning, preparing someone for the honor of receiving a formal call card from Death or a warning that it might be close. He doesn't know, however, how or when, nor can he influence his employer in any possible way. He tries to keep a quiet, routine life outside of his job and he even starts a romantic relationship. He is like the common decent man who goes on his life doing his best but he cannot foresee the dangers nor the way others try to manipulate or use him.
I think the suggestions, the hints, the sometimes realistic words the author adds within the story work to show case how marvelously unethical people can be. How we raise arms to attack something never to put ourselves in the others' shoes. I think the message portrayed here is one in par with Charlie's role: we have warnings, we have close calls but we still carry on as f we're invincible...until we are not. And often we justify the ends certainly need specific means to be so, but is it really?
As Charlie goes with his job, it starts to become obvious how weird and unfair the world is for some, for those who can't run from being different from the norms. Charlie starts to feel the weight of his role and the fact he can't change any outcome, he can't make but a small difference in the lives of those he meets through his role as Harbinger. I think it was clever how, as the story moves long, Charlie starts to feel the weight of difficulties and by the end I think it can be troublesome to identify what is worst in people's existence to the point where Charlie himself can't separate his own views and those others want to force on him.
There are wonderful passages in this book, some quite heart wrenching but let it be said there isn't an obvious linear plot development. This is a book to suggest thinking on whatever themes one wants to think about, with Charlie's job as a starting point. I can see how frustrating this can be for a reader who prefers a plot to follow. It's true that there several things, several ideas left up in the air, not leading to any obvious conclusion, somethings we just have to infer any way we like and this can be tiresome too. I've also seen some readers disliking the political and social critiques the author includes but for those who have liked other books by her, it' not a big novelty.
For me, this book worked. I liked the idea and the execution, of not the sometimes confusing jumps from one thing to another, especially those Charlie lives through and I admit there were moments where I was confused about what the message was supposed to be. However, for the most part this is a book to savor, to challenge one's views and while I can understand many will find all the negative aspects of it, for me it made sense.