Back to entry: webb_catherine | Show links black

Webb, Catherine

(1986-    ) UK author who also writes as by Kate Griffin and Claire North, often for the Young Adult market; her first works – like the Wizard Laenan Kite sequence beginning with Mirror Dreams (2002) – were fantasy. The Horatio Lyle sequence – beginning with The Extraordinary Adventures of Horatio Lyle (2006) and ending with The Dream Thief: An Extraordinary Horatio Lyle Adventure (2010) – follows its Scientist and police detective protagonist through increasingly complex adventures in a Steampunk Alternate History version of London; his various Inventions aid and complicate matters, and Zombie-like creatures appear. The sequence tapers off without climax, and may be incomplete. The late Matthew Swift series beginning with The Madness of Angels (2008) as by Kate Griffin is again fantasy, as is the Songs of Penelope sequence beginning with Ithaca (2022) as by Claire North, each volume being narrated by a different goddess with high stakes in the Matter of Greece.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (2014) as by Claire North is clearly more ambitious than most of her earlier work. The tale has some resemblance to both Groundhog Day (1993) and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (2013), while playing sophisticatedly with some of the conventions of the Young Adult novel: Harry August is born at the end of World War One, lives into adulthood, dies and is reborn, once again in 1919; his initial Amnesia only gradually dissipates in each case, but he gradually transforms his life and his era through this serial Immortality, which may end (or reach a climax) with the End of the World. En passant he discovers himself to be one of a secret Pariah Elite society, and is faced with the possibility that in his successive lives he may be creating a sequence of Alternate Worlds. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August won the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Webb's second novel as by North, Touch (2015), reconfigures some elements of the previous tale, featuring a ghost protagonist able to switch bodies by touch, a power of successive Identity Transfer which engages him for centuries. There are some echoes of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks (2014), though Touch is conspicuously lighter. The Sudden Appearance of Hope (2016) fits Cyberpunk tropes into a picaresque narrative, which tightens into a Paranoid view of Near Future information control; this novel won the World Fantasy Award. 84K (2018) is a Near Future Dystopia whose ruling Company controls, on the behalf of one-percenters, the great mass of the unrich through the imposition of harsh penalties for infractions of its bizarre rules (see Crime and Punishment).

During World War One the protagonist of The Pursuit of William Abbey (2019) describes to a nurse how he was cursed in Africa many years earlier for the sin of watching a child being tortured to death; his curse is to detect and to tell the truth; the tale climaxes in Australia where – in the profoundly uncomfortable position of being on hire to the British empire (see Imperialism) to tell it truths it does not want to know – he comes to some resolution with an Aboriginal, also a person who understands what the world is doing to itself. Set centuries after the central Near Future catastrophes of Climate Change that shape the tale, Notes from the Burning Age (2021) as by Claire North focuses on an antiquarian translator's plumbing of old documents and media (see Ruins and Futurity), gradually unveiling the story of the burning. [JC]

Catherine Webb

born London: 27 April 1986



Wizard Laenan Kite


Horatio Lyle

Matthew Swift

Matthew Swift: Magicals Anonymous

The Gameshouse

Songs of Penelope

individual titles


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 12:37 pm on 22 February 2024.