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The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

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?

The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A time travelling tale; historian Ian Mortimer immerses the reader in changing time periods, and takes them on a journey filled with historical detail, humanity and hope.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471146558

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Ian Mortimer is a historian – best known for his Time Traveller's Guides, books which take the reader on a sensory ride through times past. He's strayed into historical fiction before under the name of James Forrester (his middle names), but The Outcasts of Time is the first fiction book he's written under his own name, and one in which he utilises his historical knowledge and descriptive skills to stupendous effect.

On opening the book, the reader is plunged instantly into 1348, and the dark, dark days that descended upon the world under the devastating grip of the Black Death. It's a sensory shock for the reader – with smells and sights described in horrifying detail. As shocking as it may be though, it's a swift and clever initiation into this dangerous world, and the reader is instantly put on a journey alongside John and William, the main characters of the tale. Whilst the aspects of time travel and higher beings do give this book an element of fantasy, Mortimer's remarkably specific descriptions swiftly immerse the reader in each historical time period and keep the book grounded – the fantasy elements never seem too overblown.

At its core, this book is both a journey through time, and a journey through humanity – seeing the main characters grow over the course of the six days the reader spends with them is immensely moving, and all of their interactions, both with each other and those they meet on their travels, are beautifully described, with the slightly heavy emotional feel of the plot countered well by touches of humour in the 'fish out of water' situations that occur frequently. John himself is an immensely likeable lead character, and it's a privilege to journey through the centuries with him. As self righteous as he can be, it's a righteousness based in his upbringing, and he has heart and humanity enough to make any reader warm immensely to him. William, John's brother, is also brilliantly written - a fun character that nevertheless goes through growth and development throughout his travels, and both were characters that I was hugely sad to say farewell to on finishing the book. This is a brilliantly balanced read – I struggle to think of many who wouldn't enjoy this, as the combination of gripping plot, cleverly drawn characters and full on historical immersion make The Outcasts of Time a read that no-one will forget in a hurry.

A beautifully written tale of humanity, history and hope, The Outcasts of Time is an immensely impressive read from historian Ian Mortimer, and a tale that educates, entertains, and touches the reader. Both a journey through time and a journey through what makes a man, The Outcasts of Time is well worth a read. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy, and for further reading I recommend The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements, another book that combines historical detail with strong characters and a rip roaring plot – to brilliant effect.

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