Review: Touch, by Claire North: a deeply human and highly satisfying thriller

This is one of the rare books that I finished and thought–That is what I want my books to feel like. For me, it delivered a powerful emotional impact along with the ripping story and engaging characters. It’s the kind of book that made me want to race around forcing all of my friends to read it. No, seriously, read this book!


Kepler, our protagonist, can assume the minds and bodies of others through a touch. They (gender is intriguingly fluid for such entities) are one of a small number of people who discover they can do this. Some of those entities now live for the moment, bouncing between lives with no compunction about what happens to the people they leave behind, without memories of the occupation or what they did during that time. Some deliberately abused the power, but Kepler actually forms partnerships with their hosts, often agreeing to help them through a difficult circumstance–like an addiction the host suffers from, but which Kepler does not. So first of all, I enjoyed the elaboration of this premise, looking at all of the ways the power could be used.

When we first meet Kepler, their host has just been shot in an assassination attempt by a shadowy organization. Kepler is furious because, although the attempt was aimed at them, the assassin deliberately killed the host instead of leaving her alone after Kepler jumped to another body. Kepler determines to discover who wants them dead and why. After a few jumps in a fascinating chase scene, Kepler succeeds in jumping into the assassin himself. But while in a body, they have no access to the memories or thoughts of that person. In order to questions the assassin, Kepler must jump into someone else after securing the guy so he won’t get away.

Thus begins a very interesting relationship. It is exploitative? How would you feel to have someone take over your mind, then leave you behind? How would it feel to be on the other side–a disembodied personality assuming temporary identities?

I felt the author did a very convincing job of creating Kepler as an individual, and building all of these fascinating interactions with hosts and with others–many people don’t even know this is possible, and the few that do have widely varying reactions to it. There are some great twists along the way to a highly satisfying conclusion.

At a recent convention (I believe it was World Fantasy 2015) one of the speakers pointed out the way that a speculative fiction work reflects the world view of the author. This really got me thinking. . .so I think one reason I admire but don’t enjoy George R. R. Martin’s work is that his world view is significantly different from mine. I am ultimately a humanist (in spite of my “you don’t want to be my hero” tagline and often rather grim subject matter), and believe in the potential redemption of both individuals and humanity as a whole.

I found Touch to be very life-affirming on top of its adventure narrative. Read it because it’s a thriller that will leave you breathless. Read it because it’s the story of complex relationships that develop in startling ways. Read it because it will make you question ideas of identity. Just read this book.

About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
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