Book Review: The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

Original and thought-provoking travel through history

TheOutcastsofTimeAbout the Book

Publisher’s description: December 1348. With the country in the grip of the Black Death, brothers, John and William, fear that they will shortly die and go to Hell. But as the end draws near, they are given an unexpected choice: either to go home and spend their last six days in their familiar world, or to search for salvation across the forthcoming centuries – living each one of their remaining days ninety-nine years after the last. John and William choose the future and find themselves in 1447, ignorant of almost everything going on around them. The year 1546 brings no more comfort, and 1645 challenges them still further. It is not just that technology is changing: things they have taken for granted all their lives prove to be short-lived. As they find themselves in stranger and stranger times, the reader travels with them, seeing the world through their eyes as it shifts through disease, progress, enlightenment and war. But their time is running out – can they do something to redeem themselves before the six days are up?

Book Facts

  • Format: ebook
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • No. of pages: 400
  • Publication date: 15th June 2017
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review (4 out of 5)

It is several weeks since I finished this book and I’m still trying to decide what to make of it. I found it by turns puzzling, frustrating, impressive, thought-provoking, didactic and moving. Positioned as historical fiction, at times it seemed more like social history, political treatise, fantasy or philosophical debate. John’s and William’s journey is really a device to take the reader on a journey through time, charting changes in clothing, food, technology, architecture and religious debate. At times, this feels a little like a history lesson but an amazingly detailed and well-researched one, as you would expect from someone with the pedigree of Ian Mortimer.

Whatever period of history John and William arrive in, a constant is cruelty and inequality – plus ça change, plus c’est la mȇme chose seems to be the message. ‘I wonder what tomorrow will be like – whether the punishments of the landless and destitute will be even worse, and the haughtiness of the wealthy even greater.’ However, along the way John and William do encounter a few individuals who show them kindness or offer them assistance.

The brothers make entertaining companions on this journey through time with witty banter between the two of them masking an underlying deep affection. Their reaction to some of the new things they encounter is amusing. John and William also represent opposing sides of a debate about faith versus atheism. Although both have a desire to do good deeds, their motivation is very different.

While reading the book, I found myself pondering intertextual influences ranging from H G Wells’ The Time Machine, through Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur to Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, with William representing the character, Faithful.

The ending is both moving and thought-provoking. I think this book will divide readers.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Simon & Schuster UK, in return for an honest review.

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In three words: Original, thought-provoking, moving

IanMortimerAbout the Author

Dr Ian Mortimer is a historian and novelist, best known for his Time Traveller’s Guides series. He has BA, MA, PhD and DLitt degrees from the University of Exeter and UCL. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and was awarded the Alexander Prize by the Royal Historical Society in 2004. Home for him and his family is the small Dartmoor town of Moretonhampstead, which he occasionally introduces in his books. He also writes fiction under the name James Forrester

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