Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.
I’m a sucker for any book dealing with time and I also have a real weakness for historical adventure, so this book was bound to be a hit with me. While Tom starts his teaching career in a tough London school, we also have regular flashbacks throughout his very long life which explain how he comes to be so burnt out and sad.
Haig clearly put in the legwork regarding his research. For me, this book really sprang to life during the flashbacks, which start during the reign of Elizabeth I and throughout we gain glimpses of Tom’s life around the world as he constantly is on the move to try and cover up the inconvenient fact that he doesn’t age at the same rate as everyone else around him. In order for this book to really work I had to believe in Tom’s longevity and weariness. Haig triumphantly pulls this off, to the extent that I found parts of this book quite hard to read. I really cared about him and hoped that he would be able to find some peace and comfort. In the supporting cast a couple of characters really stood out for me – Rose, Tom’s first love is beautifully depicted and completely convincing as an Elizabethan girl and Hendrich, who has formed a society to help the “albas” protect themselves from the “mayflies”, is also a convincing character in his desire to keep those who are long-lived, safe from suspicions and anger of the majority of humanity. However, the standout supporting character has to be Camille, the French teacher who is clearly attracted to Tom. She is written with such tenderness and sensitivity that I found myself really rooting for her, to the extent that I was unsure whether she should get tangled up with Tom, who has more emotional baggage than he knows what to do with.
The one thing you can never be sure with Haig is that his stories will end happily ever after. Obviously I am not going to provide any spoilers, but I will say that this one concludes satisfactorily with all the main characters completing a strong story arc. As ever, Haig’s writing lingers in my head and I find myself thinking about this one a lot now that I have finished reading it.