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Doomsday Book Paperback – June 1, 1992
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Connie Willis labored five years on this story of a history student in 2048 who is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion. The book, which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, draws upon Willis' understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit. --This text refers to the School & Library Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
This new book by Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning author Willis ( Lincoln's Dreams ) is an intelligent and satisfying blend of classic science fiction and historical reconstruction. Kivrin, a history student at Oxford in 2048, travels back in time to a 14th-century English village, despite a host of misgivings on the part of her unofficial tutor. When the technician responsible for the procedure falls prey to a 21st-century epidemic, he accidentally sends Kivrin back not to 1320 but to 1348--right into the path of the Black Death. Unaware at first of the error, Kivrin becomes deeply involved in the life of the family that takes her in. But before long she learns the truth and comes face to face with the horrible, unending suffering of the plague that would wipe out half the population of Europe. Meanwhile, back in the future, modern science shows itself infinitely superior in its response to epidemics, but human nature evidences no similar evolution, and scapegoating is still alive and well in a campaign against "infected foreigners."p. 204 This book finds villains and heroes in all ages, and love, too, which Kivrin hears in the revealing and quietly touching deathbed confession of a village priest.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the School & Library Binding edition.
Top customer reviews
But..., "Something is wrong."
I presume Connie Willis is more a novelist than a historian. For example, Joan of Arc was born in the fifteenth century, not the fourteenth. Also, the bandits that supposedly robbed Kivrin should have left hoof prints, or at least footprints--an absence that middle-agers would spot. Nevertheless, be warned! If you are incapable of breezing through such quibbles, you will miss out on a superb piece of writing.
Be advised too: Aside from a brief scuffle with black rats, this 578-page paperback has no violence. There is blood and there are deaths, but there are no stabbings, shootings, etc. Characters are endearing, dialog is plentiful, and the prose is as lively as should be expected for this kind of story. But most of the narration is domestic and mundane. So some of you may need to cinch up a notch in your reading saddle. If you can endure the ride, however, you will be rewarded. The story's peak moments are powerfully fulfilling.
Mr. Dunworthy has misgivings about his protege' Kivrin's traveling back to the 1300's but she finds a way to go and right when she leaves a major epidemic hits the area in spite of all the high level medical care available. He becomes obsessed with getting Kivrin back knowing that she is doomed to remain in that era for the rest of her life if it does not take extraordinary measures fighting through bureaucracy, his own illness and the slew of interesting characters noted above.
Her depiction of life 700 years ago and the way her forthright and plucky time-travelling character Kivrin warms to her medieval host and her family are fascinating. Storytelling is about the journey and Kivin journeys from an obsessed academic to becoming completely invested in the very real people she encounters - people who have all the same foibles and flaws and nobility that we see in our contemporary fellows.
The pace is slow and sometimes I was wondering if anything will end up happening but the story moves along to a somewhat anticlimactic yet satisfying ending.
However, there were a few issues in the storytelling that moved this from a 4-5 star to a 3 star rating:
1. The characters in the "present time" were so similar to each other that I couldn't remember who was who. Led to a lot of page skimming as they dealt with their version of "a plague", people coming in and out of rooms generally asking the same questions over and over.
2. The lack of any reasonable safeguards about time travel (like using a locator, which apparently was possible) and other means to allow for finding the drop point, made it seem like a completely unregulated adventure by historians who were willing to take unreasonable risks (solo, no weapons, no recon, etc.)
3. Overall, the story played out fairly well, but became repetitious.