Reviewed by Jowana Bueser
By Deborah Harkness
448 pp. Viking.
Three stories unfold as Deborah Harkness returns to the world of vampires and witches in Time’s Convert, a historical fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance sure to excite fans of the All Souls Trilogy. Phoebe Taylor, an employee in Sotheby’s, chose the fanged life after falling for Marcus de Clermont. Marcus, a rebel at heart, became a bloodsucker after meeting Matthew de Clermont. Diana, a witch, forges a forbidden relationship with Matthew. Their stories interlace as Harkness weaves a tale to answer the lingering question of “what does it take to become a vampire?”
Full confession: I have not read a single Harkness book and so I tried to piece some of the puzzles and supply the missing parts to fully understand her latest novel. I have to admit it took me some time to familiarize with the story since her previous trilogy, I guess, has a developed fantasy world-building she did not choose to repeat in her latest novel. Still, the philosophical component of this companion book is satisfying enough for anyone unfamiliar with Harkness.
Of the three main characters, the story of Phoebe literally answers the question of how one becomes a vampire as we witness her journey from initiation, to transformation, and finally inclusion into the powerful de Clermont clan. Far more interesting than her undead metamorphosis is her assimilation to the clan as ancient rituals and traditions restrict and complicate her relationship with her husband. Her situation is at least not as difficult as Diana. Being married to a vampire is hard enough, but being a mother of twins with uncertain powers is another. However, it is her complex relationship with her own powers that makes her a compelling character. There is quiet strength within her that resonates every time she tries to restrain her desire to use magic or deal with her husband’s relatives. Of the three characters, the most fleshed out personal history is that of Marcus. The reader first meets him as a young boy living in fear with his abusive father and as an eyewitness to two of the most important revolutions in the West. But like Phoebe and Diana, it is his connection to the de Clermont that proves far more daunting for Marcus. In more ways than one, the book is really more about how to be a Clermont vampire.
The thread connecting all stories is time. In a moment of understanding, as Marcus grapples with his memories, Matthew ponders that coming into terms with their past lives is the most essential work a vampire can do. Diana, however, disagrees. She believes that the past, the present, and the future are interconnected and must be studied as a single strand. In essence, I surmise this is the point Harkness is making. Her triptych narration represents the propinquity of the three temporal orientations. That understanding the memories of the past, the actions in the present, and the possibilities of the future is a necessary step in living life. More so in the case of the vampires, since they are almost assured of immortality barring a stake in the heart.
One of the more interesting elements of the book is the set of quotations from Common Sense. Thomas Paine, firebrand extraordinaire, published the incendiary pamphlet persuading masses in the Colonies to fight for an egalitarian government. Common Sense is a clarion call for independence. I wonder if Harkness is trying to frame time as the incarceration of vampires. Immortals are liberated from the tyranny of time. Yet temporal freedom is also the source of their lifelong torment. Nothing is more painful than the curse of life while everyone around you dies. It reminds me of a quote from Einstein’s Dream, “Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free. Over time, some have determined that the only way to live is to die. In death, a man or a woman is free of the weight of the past and the future.”
Thus, we return to the question, “what does it take to become a vampire?” Living life to the fullest and fighting for the right to live. Just like us humans.
Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness will be available soon at Fully Booked stores. Reserve a copy in advance here.
Jowana applied as a research assistant for Hogwarts but was rejected because her natural sarcasm is considered a form of dark arts. She has since harnessed her powers working as a social media manager for almost a decade. Books keep her calm from the madness and the sameness of life. You can find her on Twitter @jowana.
[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.]