I’ve always been intrigued by reincarnation, whether as a metaphor for life as a long-term curriculum, a spiritual conceit (who can really know about such things?), or simply as literal truth: that life is continuous. After an around the world spiritual pilgrimage, reading countless books, and even braving the guru/disciple relationship—from both sides—I realize that now, as an author, it doesn’t matter to me what’s true or not true. That’s the glory of speculative fiction. Whatever the deal really is, utilizing past lives as a vehicle for introducing a novel crisis into the life of my boy genius narrator served my purposes well in Prodigy Quest, my latest release.
As in all my novels, I started with an idea that bubbled up from nowhere—what if someone were handed a mission from their previous lives? What if the character had to embark on a hazardous quest to find a book of wisdom? When I loosely patterned my protagonist after my arrogant, somewhat gifted ten-year-old self, I was off and running. The rest was an organic, seat-of-the-pants rollercoaster ride for both myself and my readers.
Why do I infuse ideas about psychological and spiritual transformation in genre novels? It goes back to my own experience again. Until my early thirties, I was quite unhappy, disconnected from the world, and a skeptic of all things I hadn’t thought of myself. As my first psychotherapist told me: “Your problem is that you believe your own bullshit.” I managed to transform from that miserable, self-absorbed guy to a relatively contented therapist myself (one who never says anything like that to my clients). In the course of working on myself, helping others, writing, and exploring wisdom traditions, I learned why and how people change. To me, that’s what good books are about—characters going through changes.
The notable books that follow were all written by authors with a similar focus on transformation, although they utilize the vehicle of reincarnation in different ways: time travel, galactic conflict, Arthurian legend, a secret society, finishing the reincarnation cycle, demonology, and a love story. Could the concept of past lives be approached with any more disparate themes? Take your pick of these six books and you can’t go wrong. Who knows? If you read them all, maybe you’ll start remembering your past lives.
The Actual Star by Monica Byrne
Monica Byrne’s The Actual Star is full of ideas about human nature and transformation on a grand scale—all of humanity and where it’s heading. Byrne has done her homework, recreating an authentic-feeling Mayan culture, and then fast-forwarding the journey of three linked souls as they reincarnate into a fraught future of horrific climate change. The characters range from dangerously charismatic leaders to committed lovers striving to save the world. Reminiscent of Octavia E. Butler, Byrne creates cultures and characters that embody depth, sensitivity, and a riveting story line.
Few authors tackle themes of tradition vs change, the nature of human connection, and the very meaning of being alive in such an ambitious manner, let alone make it work as an entertaining read the way Byrne does. Her craft impresses without being in the foreground in any distracting way. Readers will be immersed in a rich, detailed experience that may well make them more empathic, culturally sensitive, and wise. Set to be published this fall, you’ll have to wait until September to dive into Byrne’s rich world.
Once and Future by Cory McCarthy and A.R. Capetta
Once and Future by Cory McCarthy and A.R. Capetta reimagines King Arthur’s world when a fugitive teenage girl named Ari from a dystopian future goes back in time, and assumes the king’s role as his reincarnation. As she begins to bend gender and introduce modern themes of diversity and tolerance, the story is, in turns, suspenseful, funny, and thought-provoking. An ancient curse will doom mankind if Ari isn’t able to overcome great odds and defeat an evil galactic empire. Young reincarnated versions of Merlin, Guinevere, and more Arthurian familiars emerge to aid the young protagonist in her heroic efforts.
The epic nature of McCarthy and Capetta’s novel brings a breathtaking scope to an oft told, but never stale legend. Young adult readers of several popular series, such as Avalon High, are likely to feast on Once and Future.
The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz
D. Eric Maikranz’s The Reincarnationist Papers was the basis for the film The Infinite. A secretive group of souls who remember their past lives have developed into something more than ordinary humans as they collect skills and wisdom through the ages. Evan has the complete memories of two prior lives, which he bears as a burden until he meets Poppy, who remembers even more—and is a member of the esoteric group known as the Cognomina. In order to join, Evan has to negotiate a series of challenging tasks, which are full of suspense, high-stakes, and stunning twists. Mixed-in to the story are fascinating ideas about religion, history, and morality.
Surprisingly, this is Maikranz’s first novel, although his bio reads as if he has had multiple lifetimes within this one. Perhaps his varied careers around the world have helped him develop his expansive perspective.
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore takes a different approach to the title theme. Milo is living his 9,996th lifetime and he has to get it right by 10,000 or he’s a goner. In Poore’s universe, individual souls join the cosmic soul at that point or else face oblivion. This premise is complicated by the protagonist’s multi-lifetime love for Death, as embodied by “Suzie”.
Each lifetime offers Milo opportunities to learn about what’s beyond ordinary human understanding and put together the pieces of the cosmic puzzle, which might sound overly serious, but isn’t. Poore’s style is quirky, unpredictable, and imaginative—not to mention heartfelt. Exploring love in a deep way, the author adds an element that all readers can relate to. We’re along for the wild ride with Milo, and most of us are likely to be enriched by the experience.
Nation of the Sun by HR Moore
HR Moore’s Nation of the Sun (The Ancient Souls Series Book 1) explores a world of reincarnating demons, and the daunting task of regaining their memories of past lives, uncovering their organization’s secrets, and managing their multi-life relationships. Amari is living a normal life until she’s approached by someone claiming to be her soulmate, who then reveals her true demonic nature. Together, they explore a hidden reality beneath the one we all think we know.
The magic in Nation of the Sun is strikingly original, and who knew that demons could be so sexy? Moore’s romantic fantasy deserves more attention, and fans of A Discovery of Witches especially need to discover it.
The Next Together by Lauren James
The Next Together, a young adult novel by Lauren James, follows lovers Katherine and Matthew, who reincarnate in a series of European historical eras—including the future. The book’s format features both well-written prose with letters and concocted historical documents, leading the reader down the rabbit hole of their love affair that traverses multiple lifetimes. Katherine and Matthew help shape history as they sacrifice their love and their lives to make the world better. Along the way, they must sort out what they need to complete the reincarnation cycle and be fully together.
Part vivid historical fiction, part romance, The Next Together ambitiously tackles a host of themes, such as the roles of science, politics, and coming of age psychology.
Verlin Darrow is currently a psychotherapist and author. He is the author of Blood and Wisdom and Coattail Karma. His latest, Prodigy Quest, is a YA Speculative novel released this summer. Verlin is a former professional volleyball player (in Italy), unsuccessful country-western singer/songwriter, import store owner, and assistant guru in a small, benign spiritual organization. Before bowing to the need for higher education, a much younger Verlin ran a punch press in a sheet metal factory, drove a taxi, worked as a night janitor, shoveled asphalt on a road crew, and installed wood flooring. Find him on his website here, or check out his instagram @prodigyquest_theyanovel or twitter @authordarrow