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The Outcasts of Time
Ian Mortimer

Simon and Schuster (UK)
15 June 2017/ ISBN 9781471146558

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde

Just before Christmas, 1348 stonemason John and his brother William are travelling back to their homes in Devon. But nothing is the same as it was when they were last there, as the country is in the grip of the Black Death. Soon they too are in trouble, but a voice tells them that they have two choices. They can continue home and die in six days’ time, or they can spend their last days travelling into the future. Each morning when they wake it will be ninety-nine years since they last did; will the pair be able to save their souls?

I am invariably impressed when an author decides to try something a bit different, and this book ticks not only this but several other boxes too. John narrates the story, giving his own perspective on each period and how it differs (or is the same) to his own time. The changes in religion, the calendar, dress, morals, buildings, inventions and more are seen through the eyes of an ordinary man. His opinions on them are those of a man of his time, and what upsets him the most is how little regard people have for the things he considers important. He witnesses the Civil War, an 18th century workhouse, tries his hand at tin mining, attends a play and gets caught in the Exeter blitz. As I live in Devon myself, I was particularly interested to read about how it changes through the ages and also how it tallies with what I have read about the county’s history. As with any novel dealing with some of history’s darker times, this is not a jolly tale, but John meets with some good people and witnesses that however grim the period is, there are always opportunities to make things better. I didn’t guess the denouement, but when I turned the last page I felt satisfied in the way you do after a good meal. There is plenty to chew over from what things are so vital to human existence that they transcend time, to how each period views the past. Highly recommended and a treat to savor.

Reviewed 2017