Every once in a while, you discover a blogger that you just get. You love what they write about, you love their tone and writing style, and wait on tenterhooks for their next post. Well, that is Hisdoryan for me! And we get along so well that we are actually going to be visiting the V&A together in London to go to the Dior exhibit- history nerds unite! I am quite excited to have her join me on the blog today, to share her Time’s Convert review with us. Deborah Harkness is one of those authors who uses history to really sell her story and ground her characters. This new book is continuation of her existing universe and is brand new as of a week ago. I hope you enjoy this wonderful guest post from a fellow historian!
Few present day authors inspire the cult following of legends like Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. J K Rowling has succeeded by creating the Harry Potter universe, complete with multiple theme parks and West End shows. But someone is hot on her heels, and her name is Deb Harkness.
Harkness is a top flight American academic turned No.1 New York Times bestselling author. Her All Souls trilogy follows the story of Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, as she solves an ancient mystery and falls in love with a mysterious biochemist vampire named Matthew Clairmont (Trust me, the three books are far more intricate with lots of beautifully interwoven sub-plots, but you get the idea). The trilogy has spawned numerous online fan groups, a yearly convention (All Souls Con) and now, a TV series based on the first book of the trilogy A Discovery of Witches (I’m very sorry Canada and America, but you’re going to have to wait to 2019 to see it).
To coincide with the TV series, Harkness has released a spin-off to her much-cherished All Souls Trilogy – Time’s Convert, published worldwide on the 18th of September. The book follows Matthew’s son Marcus and his story;
On the battlefields of the American Revolution, Matthew de Clermont meets Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon from Massachusetts, during a moment of political awakening when it seems that the world is on the brink of a brighter future. When Matthew offers him a chance at immortality and a new life, free from the restraints of his puritanical upbringing, Marcus seizes the opportunity to become a vampire. But his transformation is not an easy one and the ancient traditions and responsibilities of the de Clermont family clash with Marcus’s deeply-held beliefs in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.
Fast forward to contemporary London, where Marcus has fallen for Phoebe Taylor, a young employee at Sotheby’s. She decides to become a vampire, too, and though the process at first seems uncomplicated, the couple discovers that the challenges facing a human who wishes to be a vampire are no less formidable in the modern world than they were in the 18th century. The shadows that Marcus believed he’d escaped centuries ago may return to haunt them both–forever.
The story is much more complex than the blurb suggests. As well as concentrating on the star-crossed lovers Marcus and Pheobe – and Marcus’ rather eventful back story which is hinted at several times in the trilogy – this book also provides an update on Matthew and Diana as they (spoiler alert!) settle into family life with their half-vampire/half-witch twins.
Luckily for me, Marcus’ back story features a whistle-stop, behind-the-scenes tour of a piece of history I am currently obsessed with – the American Revolution (blame Lin Manual Miranda – I saw Hamilton in January and haven’t stopped singing Yorktown since). The story also takes us to a Paris in the group of frenzied revolution and Madame Guillotine, and then to New Orleans, a place on top of my to-visit list and a practically perfect setting for a novel full of vampires with multiple skeletons in their closets.
However the novel does have some shortcomings. I haven’t done the maths, but I have a feeling Time’s Convert is a bit shorter that the books that make up Harkness’ All Souls trilogy. The touches of interesting historical detail that are Harkness’ trademark are scattered throughout the book, but not as liberally as in the trilogy.
I also feel that Harkness has made a bit of a rod for her own back in doing such a sterling job creating the All Souls universe. Like J K Rowling with Harry Potter, if you have read every single book you cannot help but be immersed in the world Harkness has created. However, to create such a world Harkness has had to create layer upon layer of rich backstories, complex characters and intricate subplots in the first three books. When reading Time’s Convert, I regularly had to remind myself of the many, many beautiful details Harkness had included in the trilogy to keep up with some aspects of the story. If someone picked Time’s Convert without first reading the All Souls Trilogy, I think they could struggle with it as a stand-alone read.
Times Convert is tantalisingly close to replicating the brilliance of the All Souls Trilogy but frustratingly falls just that little bit short. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of Times Convert, promptly cancel all plans for the weekend, and fall in love with the All Souls universe that Deborah Harkness has created.