As an aspiring medieval historian, Kivrin has always wanted to visit the Middle Ages for herself. Since this book is set a great deal in the future, she actually can, although that doesn’t mean all of her advisors at Oxford think it is a great idea. In fact, one of them, Dunworthy, is frantic with worry about her; he is even more worried when after the drop, the tech who sent her falls very ill and can’t tell him her coordinates. Soon, all of Oxford is under quarantine as doctors desperately try to figure out where the mystery illness came from. In 14th century England, Kivrin’s quest doesn’t go well either, as she both falls ill and realizes that something has indeed gone wrong with the drop and she is about to be tested far more than she’d ever expected.
Since this one appears to be science fiction, Keith had a go at it before I had a chance and really didn’t like it, so I was reluctant to pick it myself. Shame on me because I absolutely loved it. Obviously, as a medievalist myself, I am right there with Kivrin, I’d love to go for two weeks and experience it all for myself. Of course, I don’t think I’d much like her experience there, but I thought one of the coolest parts about the beginning of the book was when she realizes that medieval life wasn’t exactly like a textbook; not every highborn family is going to live in the exact same manor house with the same number of servants. I’m sure this was the case, although some of it is caused by events that later become prevalent (and which I won’t reveal because I don’t want to spoil the book!)
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this book for me was how exciting it was. With everyone in Oxford falling ill, and Kivrin doing so herself, and all the craziness occurring in the first third of the book, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Events roll on and eventually all becomes clear, but the book definitely had me guessing for a while. It’s easy to figure out what happened once details emerge, but even then the level of suspense and ensuing tragedy just builds up. This is a science fiction novel, ostensibly, but that didn’t bother me one bit. The technology has some fancy words attached, but since there isn’t much explanation and all the fancy words meant things I could translate into layman’s terms on my own, I didn’t experience any trouble with it.
I was so pleased with this book that despite its chunkster status, the pages flew by and I read it in two days. I would definitely recommend it to fans of both speculative fiction and historical fiction, although given Keith’s experience, if history bores you this one probably will not be for you. I, however, loved it, and know I’ll be on the lookout for other books by Connie Willis.