Book Review: Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

Posted September 6, 2019 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 6 Comments

Book Review: Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness
Genres: Paranormal, Historical, Fiction
Published by Viking on September 18, 2018
Pages: 436
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: A Discovery of Witches , Shadow of Night , The Book of Life, Time's Convert

First in the All Souls Universe paranormal historical fiction series (a spin-off from her All Souls Trilogy) and revolving around the de Clermont family of vampires. The primary focus is on Matthew’s son, Marcus, and his intended, Phoebe Taylor.

Time’s Convert was nominated in 2018 for the Goodreads Choice Award.

My Take

It’s a time-traveling story that requires a third person global subjective point-of-view, as there are so many stories within that require different perspectives in a fascinating backdrop of history, violence, gruesome eating (ahem), supportive family, obedience to family, and when it’s appropriate to break with family, um, traditions. Oh, it’s not actual time travel, but a look back in time through one’s memories.

Yes. Family. It was rather confusing to keep in mind that there are two different kinds of family. The human kind and the vampire kind. Whoever turns you into a vampire is your parent, and whoever turned them into a vampire becomes your grandparent. Naturally, any siblings (of whatever generation) become aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, etc.

There are actually three stories here, as we follow Matthew and Diane and their twins’ progress versus the family fears, Marcus’ past from his childhood through his second “childhood” with all he must learn, and Phoebe’s transformation into a vampire.

The primary theme is one of freedom. The freedom to make your own choices, the freedom promised by the Revolutionary War and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and the freedom hoped for as a result of the French Revolution. In other words, it’s all about Marcus, and we learn about his past history, before he became a vampire, and after. What he struggled with in his human life and in his vampire life.

I wonder if Phoebe’s being turned is why Harkness goes in depth into the blessings of living nearly forever. And it is a lesson we could take to ourselves, one summed up by that old chestnut “take time to smell the roses”. To embrace what you are doing right now. In each chapter about Phoebe, Harkness goes deep on the effect on the various senses, an odd combination of the sensuality of one’s physical senses and Phoebe’s selfish spoiled self. Some are forced on her, such as Françoise’s telling her off. Hoo, boy, that was a good one! Okay, yeah, I’m not liking Phoebe.

A side note is about war and the effect it has. As well as the effect of power. And that was quite the effective way to show how powerful the de Clermonts (and Philippe) are when we learn why Gallowglass flies the family crest!

One of those introspections includes Marcus’ reasoning for not liking rules, for what that lack did to his father after fighting at Fort William Henry. Harkness made use of the War of Independence and the French Revolution to relate how Marcus’ beliefs grew, and yet I wonder why Harkness didn’t include the Civil War in this as well. Probably a lack of space.

Oh, man, Diana has her own revelations, particularly the reasons why her parents spellbound her. Oh, man…lol… It’s those memories that have a violent affect on Diana’s decision about her children’s futures. The most amazing revelation is from Baldwin about Philippe and about the family. Oh. My. Lord. Hell hath frozen over.

Harkness throws in side bits from the time: primer examples and ads regarding stolen property and deserters.

The role of vampires in Harkness’ universe is quite unique and their manipulation of history makes for a much more interesting story, as Harkness flips back and forth through time that is easy enough to follow. I must say that I would never have considered them guardians of the world, lol.

It’s a story packed with action and remarkable characters with a pace that veers between fast and slow, depending upon your interests. Most of the time, I could easily understand what Harkness was saying. Other times, I had to go back over and over a few pages, a few scenes, and there are still some events or comments about which I am clueless.

The 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 Paris, where Phoebe Taylor — the young employee at Sotheby’s whom Marcus has fallen for — is about to embark on her own journey to immortality. Though the modernized version of 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 than they were in the eighteenth century. The shadows that Marcus believed he’d escaped centuries ago may return to haunt them both — forever.

The Characters

Phoebe Taylor is human, for now and works at Sotheby’s (Shadow of Night, 2). Her parents, Edward, a career diplomat, and Padma, are supportive but unhappy. Her sister, Stella, is a bitch. Persephone becomes Phoebe’s illicit cat. Madame Elena is a Russian ballet teacher (and vampire) who had known Madame Olga, Phoebe’s childhood ballet mistress. Elena’s son, Dimitri, plays piano.

The unconventional, too-impetuous Marcus MacNeil of Hadley, a.k.a., Galen “Doc” Chauncey, Marcus O’Neil, Marcus Chauncey, Marcus Whitmore, was born in August of 1757. His parents were Obadiah MacNeil and Catherine Chauncey of Boston. Patience was his little sister. Oliver will be her son. Cousin Josiah was a shifty character suspected of being a Tory, who had lived in Amherst.

The de Clermonts are…
…an aristocratic vampire family with a great deal of influence. Freyja, a.k.a., Aunt Fanny, dislikes many modern devices, even though she has been a member of the Paris police force since 1904. Dr Miriam Shepherd, a vampire and scientist at Oxford, is Freyja’s stepsister; Miriam’s maker had been a prioress in Jerusalem. Jason had been the son of Miriam’s deceased mate, Ori, a.k.a., Bertrand, Wendalin, Ludo, Randolf, and Gund. Miriam’s daughters had included Taderfit and Lalla.

Philippe de Clermont had been the family patriarch until his death. He’s also the father of Baldwin (the new head of the clan; he’s survived since Roman days), Freyja, Verin, and the ennui-struck Stasia. A father with a deep fascination for mythology; “he liked to read about the exploits of old friends”. He also authored the most influential bestiary in the Western tradition.

Ysabeau (a carrier of the blood rage) had been Philippe’s mate and Matthew’s mother, and she still mourns Philippe’s passing. She lives at Sept-Tours in France. The casual Fernando Gonçalves, a black man who would be of no use to the family except as a servant or slave, is/was?? Hugh’s mate, which makes him Matthew’s brother-in-law. Hugh had been one of Philippe’s favorites — because Philippe could never figure him out. Eric Gallowglass, a vampire sired by Hugh with feelings for Diana, is captain (Eric Reynold) of the Aréthuse. Stefan is the cook. Faraj is the ship’s pilot.

Charles, a vampire, is the family chef. Françoise is a vampire servant who has also been with the family for centuries. Sonia is a human, a colleague of Miriam’s at the World Health Organization who has known the family for some twenty years. Daniel Fischer is a Swiss vampire and chemist. Margot is another willing “victim”. Adele, Madame Lefebvre, and Monsieur Roux are neighbors to Sept-Tours where Madame Laurence runs a restaurant in the village.

Drs Matthew de Clermont and Diana Bishop were…
…the focus of The All Souls Trilogy and are now married with a new set of twins, Bright Borns: Rebecca “Becca” Arielle with her love for blood and Philip “Pip” Michael Addison Sorley Bishop-Clermont. They are living at Les Revenants in France for most of the story. Apollo is Philip’s familiar, a griffin. The children’s toys include Cuthbert, an overstuffed elephant, and Zee who is a wooden zebra. Tabitha is Sarah’s cat who’s living with the Bishop-Clermonts. Hector and Fallon are Matthew’s dogs. He’ll give Diana her own dog, Ardwinna, a deerhound. Balthasar is Matthew’s stallion; Rakasa is Diana’s horse.

Diana is supposed to be working on her gramarye, putting her magic into words, as well as one on the connections between cooking and modern chemistry. Corra had been the firedrake familiar Diana summoned (Shadow of Night, 2).

Jack is Matthew’s great-grandson; Diana thinks of him as their first son (Shadow of Night). Seems Jack did a no-no with Suki, the woman employed to watch over Jack in London. Marthe is their vampire cook-housekeeper who knows all. Alain is her “son” and had been Philippe’s squire. Rebecca had been Diana’s mother. Sarah is Diana’s witchy aunt, and Emily is her companion. Diana’s father’s familiar had been a heron, Bennu.

Dr Christophe “Chris” Roberts is working with Matthew on researching the genetic levels of humans, vampires, witches, and daemons. Seems his on-again, off-again girlfriend??, Jette, sold his house while Chris was away on business. Hamish Osborne is a daemon friend and lawyer to the de Clermonts. Eleanor St Leger was encountered during the Crusades in Jerusalem. Cecilia was another problem.

The Knights of Lazarus are…
…the de Clermonts’ supposedly secret military/charitable organization founded during the Crusades to protect vampire interests and is always led by a de Clermont — Marcus these days — with their fingers in every political pie.

The Congregation is…
… a council of nine vampires, witches, and daemons whose purpose is to rule the supernaturals, and the covenant is meant to prevent them from mixing with each other. Gerbert of Aurillac and Domenico Michelle are vampire representatives. Andrea Popescu. Albret and Eliezer are more progressive vampires. Castle Holló, Hungary, is considered sacred ground to be fought over to the death. Lambert of Saint-Omer is a Benedictine cleric and friend of Gerbert’s.

Bill and his wife are modern day tourists.

London, 1591

“Father” Andrew Hubbard had ruled over London’s vampires. Still does, actually.

England, 1790
Catharine Sawbridge Macaulay Graham, a friend of Ben Franklin’s and the most notorious woman in England, will provide a refuge. Her husband, William, is a Scots surgeon and less than half her age. His brother, James Graham, incorporates some unconventional “cures”.

William encourages Marcus to attend Edinburgh University with Dr Black‘s chemistry lectures, Dr Gregory‘s insistence on visiting wards seeing patients, and Dr Monro‘s anatomy lectures.

America, 1770s

Members of Congress who take over the Sun Inn in Bethlehem include John Adams. Aaron Lyon is one of Colonel Woodbridge‘s men. Colonel Prescott is stranded on Breed’s Hill. Jimmy Hutchinson‘s from Salem…and younger than Marcus. Captain John Stark, one of the first of Rogers’ Rangers, will command Marcus. John Cole was wearing buckskins. Marcus meets Mistress Bishop, a healer, for the first time at the end of his first battle. A Proctor broke his leg.

The Philadelphia Associators was a gunnery company that became Marcus’ new family with Captain Moulder the nominal head, Lieutenant Cuthbert, Adam Swift was Irish and Cuthbert’s second-in-command, and Claes Vanderslice was a fourteen-year-old Dutch rigger. Captain Hamilton claimed to have damaged the painting. German Gerty runs a tavern.

Marcus will meet Dr Bodo Otto, the chief surgeon for the Pennsylvania companies, and become his surgeon’s mate; Mrs Otto is his formidable wife. The Ottos’ three sons — Frederick, Bodo, Jr, and John — are also doctors. Mrs Dolly, a Negress, is a member of Otto’s staff. Drs Cochran, the too abrupt Rush, and the aggressive Shippen are fellow doctors. Bettering House in Philadelphia is the hospital for the indigent, insane, and criminal. Wounded patients include Silas Hubbard and Will Norman, a Virginian. Dr Sutton‘s method for inoculation works. Hunter appears to have written an influential book on battlefield medical aid??

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is…
…the home of a Moravian community led by Johannes Ettwein who is also the town’s minister. Mrs Boeckel, her daughter, Liesel, and young John Ettwein are skilled nurses. Brother Andrew, a.k.a., Ofodobendon Wooma and York, and Sister Magdalene, a.k.a., Beulah, are Negros and not quite as equal as their fellow Brethren. Brother Eckhardt is their apothecary.

Hadley, Massachusetts
Zeb Pruitt, a Negro, was Marcus’ friend and hero. Ellie Pruitt helped Catherine clean once a week. Madam Porter had a fine house. The gossipy, snotty Anna Porter was her granddaughter. Anna’s father runs the mercantile. Joshua Boston seems to be all right. Old Widow Noble. Noah Cook thought it was just a dog. I think Reverend Hopkins had been here.

Today, Mrs Judd will be a neighbor.

Northampton, Massachusetts
Thomas Buckland has a surgery and lends Marcus medical books. Mercy Buckland is his wife and compiles the potions and medications for their apothecary. Seth Pomeroy is a fine gunsmith.

The French
Gilbert “Gil”, a.k.a., the Marquis de Lafayette, is only nineteen! Adrienne is Gil’s wife, and they have two children already, Anastasie and Georges. Part of his entourage includes Matthew, the chevalier de Clermont, a.k.a., Dagoweyent; John Russell with the Seventeenth Regiment of Light Dragoons; and, I think, Le Brun. Pierre is a stretcher-bearer. Mlle Juliette Durand is Matthew’s nasty French girlfriend.

Philadelphia, 1793
Yellow fever broke out. Betsy is an orphan. Absalom Jones is driving a dead wagon for Mr Girard who took over the Hamilton estate.

Paris, 1782

Dr Benjamin Franklin is the American ambassador with whom Fanny works. Davy Gams, a.k.a., Hancock. Antoine, Guy, and Josette are humans working for the de Clermonts; Ulf is a footman. Stéphanie Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin, Comtesse de Genlis, is a friend of Fanny’s who comes to help educate Marcus before, horrors, Philippe meets him. Master Arrigo St Angelo is employed to teach Marcus swordsmanship.

1789 to 1790
Veronique, an independent vampire made by Ombeline in 1348, runs a tavern, La Ruche, and is Marcus’ lover. She espouses the beliefs of the extremely paranoid Jean-Paul Marat, a daemon. In our day, she works in London. Dr Guillotin, a Freemason, wants to reform medicine, including providing criminals with a quicker, more humane death. George Danton forms a political club, the Cordeliers. Marat goes back to publishing L’ami du peuple.

1793 to 1799
Marie Antoinette is a queen in prison who loses her head in 1793. Robespierre.

New Orleans, 1805 to 1817

Thomas Paine, who wrote Common Sense, lives here?? with Marguerite Bonneville, a friend who has two children, one of whom is Benjamin. Aaron and Edward are the men who drove Paine to New Rochelle, Connecticut. Harkness’ version of his death was quite sad.

Ransome Fayrweather is a scam artist who befriends Marcus and introduces him to the joys in life, including the Domino Club. Ransome goes on to sire his own children: Malachi Smith, a thief; Crispin Jones; and, the unlucky Suzette Boudrot, among others. It inspires Marcus to sire his own: Molly, a Choctaw with the voice of an angel; One-Eyed Jack, who ran with Lafitte’s gang; Geraldine a French acrobat; Waldo who could spot cheats a mile away; and, Myrna with her heart of gold. I think Marguerite D’Arcantel heads up a coven. I have no idea who Louis is.

Saru/Satu Järvinen was a witch in Shadow of Night, 2, who kidnapped Diana.

Bright Borns are born of a witch mother and a vampire father afflicted with blood rage. Weavers are witches with demon blood who represent hope, rebirth, and change, makers of spells who terrified other witches so much that they hunted them down. A true father is the man who teaches what you need to know about the world and how to survive in it, men like Joshua, Zeb, and Tom for Marcus. Blood rage is an inherited sickness that can take over a vampire’s mind and body with no room for reason or control. A wearh is an old term for vampire. Bloodlore is knowledge that’s in the bones and blood of every creature.

The Cover and Title

The cover is an incredibly busy collage of arcane circles in oranges, browns, and golds with the textured profile of a woman, Diana??, emerging from behind the trio of stacked circles, the bottom of which is a clock representing time. All the text is in white, causing it all to stand out well from the author’s embossed name at the top followed by two lines, one an info blurb and the second the original series information. The embossed title spans the lower half with the information that this is a “novel” at the bottom.

I’m thinking the title has more to do with Matthew and Diana’s children and their future abilities, as Time’s Converts.

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6 responses to “Book Review: Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

  1. Stormi

    So glad you enjoyed this! My friend Barb and I just finished a buddy read of the trilogy and this month we are reading this one and we were kind of nervous about but excited too…lol.

  2. I’ve had this sitting on my shelves for a year, ever since I got to go to a talk and signing by Deb Harkness. (Which was amazing.) To be honest, I’ve been worried it wouldn’t live up to the original books. I think I’ll read it in October; I want to reread the All Soul’s Trilogy first, and then watch season one of A Discovery of Witches.

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