Reviewed by Clifford Jongko
By Deborah Harkness
448 pp. Viking.
I admit I am a purist when it comes to vampire mythology. I gravitate towards the ones that depict vampires as hungry and malevolent: think Dracula, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Strain. So I hesitated when I started reading Time’s Convert. It didn’t help that it was a part of a larger story (The All Souls Trilogy), which – full disclosure – have not read. At least not yet. The good news is that the novel is not weighed down by its predecessors, and can be enjoyed on its own, which, I thought, was a good sign.
Time’s Convert follows three intertwined tales. In the first, we are reintroduced to Diana Bishop and Matthew de Clermont (from the All Souls novels) in the present day, struggling with raising their twins, who are starting to display unique traits. This frames the bulk of the story, which immediately follows the previous novel, The Book of Life. Marcus Whitmore and his fiancée Phoebe Taylor have decided that the latter should be turned into a vampire before marriage. The turning requires a ninety-day separation, and this is where the narrative is split in two: on one, the waiting groom tells his origins as a medical practitioner during the American Revolution, how he crossed paths with Matthew, and how he eventually became a vampire.
I found myself fascinated by the third story, Phoebe’s transformation. In most vampire stories, the process of turning is vaguely described, and not very consistent. Here, the struggle to control the suddenly-enhanced strength and senses, the hunger for blood, and later, her reintegration into civilized society, is told in detail. One understands midway that the ninety-day separation is not done out of ceremony, but of necessity. The cover text asks, “what does it take to be a vampire?” and the reader is rewarded with answers in the most satisfying way.
History aficionados will find a lot to enjoy in Marcus’s account of his life during the American Revolution. As a historian, Deborah Harkness did a great job of seamlessly integrating Marcus into real-life historical events. I particularly enjoyed Marcus’s close association with political activist Thomas Paine, the former’s presence in Paris during the end of the French Revolution, and his involvement in the rise of the 19th-century gangs of New York.
Raising a family seems to be the main theme amongst all three stories: Phoebe, returned to infancy and had to relearn something as basic as walking; Marcus, a working-class American, forced to integrate with an aristocratic (and vampiric) French family; and Matthew and Diana, caught between traditionalist families while trying to raise their children in a modern age.
I am actually considering buying the previous trilogy to further immerse myself in this unique blend of historical detail and supernatural lore. If you want a good supernatural story with a fresh approach to vampire lore – one that doesn’t rely on romantic or vampiric clichés to get the story moving, then you should consider Time’s Convert. If you’ve read and liked the All Souls Trilogy, you don’t need any convincing – we both know you’ll be buying this novel.
Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness will be available soon at Fully Booked stores. Reserve a copy in advance here.
Clifford is a freelance content writer and musician who loves coffee, crafts book slipcases, and can talk for hours about comics. Beware his bad puns. Follow his graphic novel-centric page/podcast @thoseF_ingnerds on Twitter. Follow his personal Twitter and Instagram @tapsilogic at your own risk.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]