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The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer
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The Outcasts of Time

by Ian Mortimer

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Thanks to the LibraryThing Early Reviewers scheme for an audio copy of Ian Mortimer's The Outcasts of Time (Tantor, 2018), read by James Cameron Stewart. The unabridged edition, all 12.5 hours' worth, fits snugly on two MP3 CDs, and I was able to listen to the entire text during a recent 1,300-mile trek.

I must confess that I'm still getting used to audiobooks, which I'm able to listen to only when driving long distances. I think my brain has only so much bandwidth: I need some of it to drive; only what's left of it can go to processing what I'm hearing. (Do other people periodically have to shut off audiobooks just to think? In other words, I don't have a "third track" in my brain that would, in addition to driving and listening, also let me think about other things. Perhaps I wish audiobooks would have greater buffers between sections or chapters: one ends, and the next begins well-nigh immediately. If I were reading a printed text, I'd pause for a moment, at least, before jumping into the next section.)

I'll say, too, that I used to enjoy historical fiction--though this book has some elements from science fiction thrown in for good measure (namely, the time-travel element). The Outcasts of Time is a bit of a mashup of Rip Van Winkle meets Brigadoon meets A Christmas Carol. Now that I'm older, I think I want to know what's historical and what's being added. If I'd been reading (instead of listening to) this text, I'd have consulted an encyclopedia numerous times, I'm sure, to query the limits of my knowledge of English history between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries. Perhaps more of the characters were based on historical people than I am aware.

Others, I'm sure, will summarize the story. I do like the fact that it centers around Exeter (which I have visited); the cathedral plays a somewhat important role. The main protagonist, John, is in fact a stonemason who decorated the cathedral in the mid-1300s. I also really liked the idea behind the story . . . but I found the descriptions upon each 99-year jump forward to become a bit tiring. I'm not sure, either, that someone born in the early fourteenth century would be able to understand the nuances of what's going on so quickly--John (and, for a spell, his brother William) had just one day in each successive century; I was reminded of how quickly a child can pick up new vocabulary--but that skill declines with age. Some of the names John assigns to objects before he hears their proper names are rather quaint and memorable, e.g., "eye-windows" for eyeglasses; but I did note one place where John says "spectacles" (and I have no memory of him hearing someone else refer to them by that term). (In other places, he learns "clock" and "fork" and "cigarette" and "gun" and "musket"; but he uses the term "bombed" before he'd been introduced to the word "bomb," if I recall correctly. And were napkins used in the fourteenth century? I was surprised John and William knew what to do with napkins upon encountering them in their time-travels.) I'll let linguists comment on the ability of someone from the fourteenth century to be intelligible by folks seven hundred years in the future.

Kudos to Stewart, the voice actor, for distinguishing the voices of the characters (though I found it interesting that the "older" voices seemed to be inflected by Scottish or Irish tones and patterns). I've also lived in the UK, so I could sense differences in accents among most of the characters. (I wasn't convinced by the approximation of a New Yorker's mid-twentieth-century accent, though.) Stewart also managed to capture, quite well, haughtiness and pomposity and wickedness as he offered the spoken words of certain characters who exuded such dimensions. But are women's voices typically rendered in falsetto?

Ultimately, I found The Outcasts of Time to be a bit more "preachy" than I'd expected; but religion, understandably, was something almost constantly on the minds of the various characters throughout the first several centuries of the story, at least. (I just couldn't get particularly excited about the moral questions at hand, that's all.) Listening to the book in the wake of the June 2018 national discussion on suicide and suicide prevention gave certain elements of the text a deeper meaning.
  sgump | Jun 18, 2018 |
Such an original novel. Two brothers amidst the 14th Century plague are given the choice of spending their remaining few days at home, or travelling into the future by nearly a century each day.

A time-travel book that, because of its unusual direction, really brings social history alive as John tries to make sense of the changes.
Reflection that will stick in my head - home is a time not a place.

John becomes increasingly confused as he tries to do good & fails, but comes across a few kind, caring people amongst the horrors of each age. And a moving, satisfying last chapter where it is revealed to him the importance of his actions. ( )
  LARA335 | May 4, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Ian Mortimer tries to do too much in this book. Using two fictional brothers to skip through time, touching down once a century, is a clever idea to highlight the changes that England undergoes as time goes by – political, social, physical and intellectual. But his microscopic attention to living conditions, theology, architecture, and technology get in the way of any sort of cohesive plot. The characters observe what's physical and discuss what's not, and in a fashion that is rather far-fetched considering their education. This was a slog for me, neither fiction nor non-. ( )
  wdwilson3 | Apr 27, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is an intriguing concept. What an idea, living one's last 6 days each in a different century in the future! I was greatly disappointed. I had hoped for so much. I think I did the book a disservice by reading it so close to Sarum which travels further in time, but really makes each time period real with characters one cares about. This offered some novelty as new technology was revealed. I was startled however when with one jump in time the brothers are startled by the numbering of the years, but in the next jump they know all about leap year. In 1943 John goes to the cinema, an amazing new technology for him and he is directed to "screen number one". Now I could be wrong, but I don't think there were multi screen theaters at that time. One big problem was the reader, John Cameron Stewart. The reading was so halting and stilted that I couldn't decide if the writing was bad or if it was just the delivery. The overall plot was a bit like Pilgrim's Progress and Faustus as John and his brother, William endeavor to save their souls. There were some thoughts worth pondering. I'm sorry it wasn't a more engaging read. I am grateful to LibraryThing and Tantor Media for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  njcur | Apr 19, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Being a huge fan of Ian Mortimer's previous book "The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England," I was excited to get this book. It definitely lived up to my expectations!

For fans of historical fiction, I would put this book on a must read list. Mortimer takes two brothers, John and William, through history jumping 99 years over six days. The story begins in 1348, as the brothers are traveling home from war. John is challenged to do six good deeds over the next six days, but in different time periods. Mortimer's attention to detail during each of the time periods is terrific and makes the story even more engrossing.

The brothers eventually make it to the 20th century and the ending of the tale is well done. I truly enjoyed the story. ( )
  thebooklover1 | Apr 13, 2018 |
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From the back cover: December 1348. What if you had six days to save your soul? With the country in the grip of the Black Death, brothers John and William fear that they will shortly die and suffer in the afterlife. 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. They year 1546 brings no more comfort, and 1645 challenges them in further unexpected ways. 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?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 147114657X, Digital)

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?

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 01 Mar 2017 16:40:05 -0500)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Two brothers escape the Black Death by skipping forward in time, experiencing six centuries of change in six days. December 1348. The country is in the grip of the Black Death. Brothers John and William 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. They 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 in further unexpected ways. Things they have taken for granted all their lives prove to be short-lived. Can they do something to redeem themselves before the six days are up?… (more)

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