Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness
Available on Goodreads
My rating: 3.5/5
Beware: Contains spoilers for the All Souls trilogy
Definitely one I’d recommend to fans of the All Souls trilogy, this book gives readers the opportunity to learn more about Marcus de Clermont, stepson and vampire to the trilogy’s own Diana Bishop and Matthew de Clermont, respectively. Whilst it’s by no means a standalone – considering all of the spoilers for All Souls and the knowledge of events and characters from that series that’s required – it’s definitely a great addition to the collection.
Set in present-day London and France, and in the 18th Century amongst revolutionary war and uprising Time’s Convert centres around Marcus de Clermont. The book offers insight into Marcus by recounting his life and origins, revealing his much younger years growing up in the American colonies, his experiences with war and upheaval, and the circumstances that led to his being a vampire and a member of the notable de Clermont family. In the present-day, Marcus deals with the memories of these experiences and the emotions related, evoked as his human love, Phoebe Taylor, embarks on her journey to immortality.
Time’s Convert is extremely illuminating and sheds a lot of light on Marcus, a character about whom little is revealed in All Souls. The book reveals the type of person Marcus is, the circumstances that shaped him, and the choices he’s made and the whys. Whilst I liked Marcus well enough in the All Souls trilogy, I wasn’t sure about reading an entire book dedicated to his character. However, after reading it I can say that I did find it interesting. Marcus’s origin story definitely has some exciting moments that had me wanting to read on, and I enjoyed reading about his early interactions with Matthew, and learning more about the de Clermonts through Marcus’ experiences.
Marcus’ roots are planted in the 18th Century, and Time’s Convert, like the All Souls trilogy before it, incorporates real-life historical events and characters. The revolutionary times provide an interesting and well-incorporated background to Marcus’ story. Furthermore, the use of elements of real history provides a foundation for Deborah Harkness’s world that is recognisable, making it easier to imagine and understand the setting and circumstances without an extensive amount of world building. Regardless, Harkness does a lot to keep some overall historical accuracy and I appreciate the effort it must have taken to get things right.
Furthermore, as a Hamilton fan, I especially enjoyed the choice of period. It was fun reading Harkness’s take on characters and a period I was slightly more familiar with than those I hadn’t even thought about since school – as it was with All Souls.
In addition to revealing Marcus’s story, Time’s Convert also offers a window of insight into the lives of other characters in the All Souls universe. In the present and in the past, readers are allowed the opportunity to learn a bit more about the de Clermont family, its members, as well as its dynamics. The promise of other characters from the All Souls trilogy was my primary reason for reading Marcus’ story at all, and in this aspect the book did not disappoint. Though it is still heavily about Marcus, I did appreciate how much other characters I already knew and loved from the trilogy are featured and the new knowledge about them that given.
As Marcus’s past is explored, in the future Phoebe’s intriguing journey as she seeks to fulfil her goal of becoming a vampire and being with Marcus evermore. Even if I don’t care much about Phoebe, and nor do I care much for her relationship with Marcus, I found her experiences in the book to be some of the more intriguing and novel aspects of it.
Another aspect of the book outside of Marcus’s experience I enjoyed was the moments that focus on Diana and Matthew, who I was pleased to find featured very noticeably in the book. Whilst their inclusion isn’t too heavy, it does allow for some advancement in their story, some understanding of how they’ve been getting on since the conclusion of the All Souls trilogy, and even for some interesting revelations to be made.
In addition to Marcus’s perspective, Time’s Convert includes chapters from character perspectives other than Marcus’s. Through these chapters other characters contribute to the wider story the book encompasses. I appreciated these chapters for the chance to see what was going on outside of Marcus’ experience, as well as the information that they enable the book to reveal. However, the back and forth between storylines and perspectives did sometimes serve to disappoint, when one storyline seemed to be reaching an interesting point, but I had to wait another chapter or so before it picked back up.
I thought the multiple perspectives slowed the pace of an already quite slow book, and made the interesting chapters sometimes feel few and far between.
Overall, however, I enjoyed reading Time’s Convert and I’m glad that I did, if only because I like the universe and some of its existing characters. And, even though Marcus isn’t necessarily my favourite character, it was interesting to read about his experiences. Moreover, I relished the opportunity to get to learn even a little bit more about the de Clermont’s and reading more about Diana, Matthew, and the twins. Reading this addition to the All Souls universe, especially as someone invested in some of characters, was definitely worthwhile.
There were several points I wanted to discuss about Time’s Convert that require me to go into spoilers, so I’ve separated them from the review.
I strongly advise that you don’t read on, unless you’ve read the book already.
You have been warned.
I think my favourite part of reading Time’s Convert was the increased knowledge of existing characters and the introduction of a few key characters.
In actuality, there was really only one new character who rated as a major addition to the books, in my opinion – Freyja de Clermont, also known as Aunt Fanny. Freyja – and I’m continuing with this name because I think it suits her better and I like it more – quickly became one of my favourite characters. Her warrior background, fierce nature, all along with her sophisticated vampire splendour, made quite the impression. I liked how she handles herself, and I also liked her as a choice of guardian for Phoebe; Her attitude was a great choice for balancing Miriam’s. Marcus obviously knew first-hand that she’d be a good pick and I’m glad his choice allowed for her introduction to the story in the present.
Of the existing characters that the book reveals more about in Time’s Covert, one has been a particular favourite of mine since early on – Ysabeau de Clermont. It is not necessarily that more of her story is revealed. For the most part, Time’s Convert simply reveals a bit more about how other characters see her – primarily Marcus and Phoebe.
Through Phoebe’s eyes, things about Ysabeau that I learned whilst reading All Souls were reinforced. She’s refined, graceful, elegant, and charming, but at the same time there is a quiet strength and hardness about her.
The same dual nature is seen from Marcus’ perspective. Ysabeau shows herself to be a loving and concerned grandmother, and yet it’s also evident to Marcus that more lies below the surface. I think it was put most aptly by him; “Ysabeau, however, had a wild, untamed edge that could not be completely cloaked in satin or softened with lace. There was something feral and dangerous about his grandmother, something that caught at Marcus’s throat and made his heart thud in warning.”
I’ve always seen Ysabeau as a woman who is more than meets the eye and I indeed recognise an air of danger and cunning about her. Furthermore, I can easily identify with Phoebe’s admiration and respect for such a formidable creature. I find Ysabeau almost indescribably compelling, but I very much enjoyed putting more words to my fascination though Time’s Convert.
Another character I was happy to read more of was Miriam. She, like a lot of characters who aren’t Diana and Matthew, didn’t feature very heavily in All Souls. However, she was in there enough that I had started to like her by the end, after I’d come around to her stern and standoffish nature and maybe even come to enjoy it. Her parenting style with Phoebe showed how this nature extends to even her children – just as stern but with a definite element of care and concern if you look closely enough. It definitely made for some amusing content as she tried to mother Phoebe. The “BAD DECISIONS MAKE GOOD STORIES” moment, was one I found particularly funny.
Finally, I was also pleased to see and understand a bit more of Baldwin. I said in my spoiler review of the All Souls trilogy that I believed Baldwin was honestly concerned with doing the best thing for his family, even if it made him the bad guy. Time’s Convert really reinforced my belief that he was more “human” than he lets on through his love of the twins – even if I disagree with his blatant favouritism – as well as my increased understanding of Phillipe de Clermont as a father and how his treatment of his children affected them.
As hesitant as I was to read a character focused book, I’d definitely read another in this universe with much less of it, if only to read just a little bit more about other characters that I prefer.
Balancing love and control
In all that is disclosed through Time’s Convert about characters from this world, not all of it worked to increase my liking of them. Foremost in my mind are the things that come to light about Diana’s parents, Rebecca Bishop and Stephen Procter, and Matthew’s stepfather Phillipe.
In revealing that Rebecca and Stephen’s decision to spellbind Diana was far from a one off, the book applied a new filter to how I see them as parents. Whilst it is evidently difficult to bring up a weaver, and especially so when trying to hide their abilities, the fact that Rebecca and Stephen systematically bound Diana’s powers came off as slightly selfish; It seemed to me like a harsh means of control adopted by people unable to adapt to their child’s gifts. Maybe I’d view it less harshly if it hadn’t traumatised Diana, but it did, so I do.
That said, Diana’s realisation about her childhood does push her to further accept her abilities, as well as her son Philip’s and the potential for her daughter Rebecca’s. After finishing All Souls I had thought the fear that had been holding Diana back was dealt with, but it does make more sense that a lifetime of fear would require more time to overcome than the months that the trilogy encompasses allow. Once again, it was satisfying to see Diana accepting herself, if only just a little more.
When it comes to Phillipe, I was not necessarily as surprised with his parenting (and grandparenting) methods as I was with Rebecca and Stephen.
Phillipe was powerful, not only because of his knowledge and connections, but his ability to use those to his advantage to anticipate and manipulate the world around him. Even though it was evident in All Souls that he kept a close watch on his family and even made decisions about what they did and how they lived to a certain extent, I failed to comprehend the extent of it. I think maybe it’s because I hadn’t really considered what it felt like to be constantly on the other side of it. Seeing his actions from Marcus’ perspective, and learning how it affected even his most loyal son, Baldwin, made it clearer that Phillipe was far from father of the millennium.
However, when it comes to all these parents, I do still acknowledge that they obviously loved and cared about their children, despite the ways in which I think they fell short by trying to control them. They weren’t perfect parents, but their more questionable actions were things they did in hopes of protecting their families.
From a less emotional point-of-view, I actually appreciated the nuance this new knowledge added to these parent/child relationships. Nostalgia may have coloured Diana and Matthew’s memories in the trilogy books, but parenting isn’t easy. It requires tough choices sometimes, and parents, no matter how loving, can’t always get those choices right. At least, that’s what I reckon.
Vampire rebirth and development
Phoebe is kind of a boring character and I think her relationship with Marcus is simultaneously boring and saccharine, but I can’t deny that her chapters and the experience of vampire development was interesting.
Learning about what vampires experience in those first days and weeks and months following rebirth and how the mature in Harkness’s created world was fascinating.
Reading about the changes to Phoebe’s body, to her instincts and urges, her perception of the world, and even her own memories, about what it’s like to become a vampire rather than just about what it is to be one. really added depth to this world for me.
Vampires are nothing new to the supernatural genre, so anything an author does to set their creation apart – like formulating how they turn and the physiological and emotional changes they experience – is much appreciated by me. It shows a level of creativity that I admire. At least in the case that the resulting creation actually appears unique.
It’s possible that something very similar to Harkness’s vampires has been before and I just don’t realise because I don’t read enough vampire related fiction, but the chapters were novel to me and that’s all that really counts towards my enjoyment.
Furthermore, I enjoyed briefly learning about and identified with Phoebe’s reasons for wanting to turn – her observations of Ysabeau which made her desire to also have an “inexhaustible supply of time”. I mentioned in a previous post my decision to sacrifice sleep in favour of a busy, though mainly voluntary, schedule. If only I could have the time an immortal being had. If only I didn’t need the sleep. Though as a person who gets so little of it, I have come to love sleep. Oh, how I’d miss it.
So, that’s it. I’m all caught up with the All Souls universe book. Now it’s just a waiting game.
Thanks for reading my review and for making it to the end. I hope you enjoyed it.
If you’ve read the entire All Souls trilogy, please also consider checking out my spoiler review of it.
I’ve also written spoiler-free reviews for the individual books in the trilogy (linked below). These are each spoiler-free for the book itself, but not for the books before it. Feel free to read and share as you like.