Brandy Painter's Reviews > Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
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's review
May 31, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: adult-fiction, historical-fiction, science-fiction, favorites

This review first published here:

Think it would be romantic to go back in time to the Medieval Age? Knights, jousting, tournaments, ladies in waiting, the age of chivalry and all that? Well, this book will pretty much obliterate any romantic notions you might have about this time period. The 14th century is considered a blanket 10, meaning they don't send historians there. It is too dangerous. When the Head of History at Oxford University goes on a holiday and takes pains to make himself unreachable, the acting head, a Medieval professor, works quickly to have the restrictions on 14th century lifted. James Dunworthy, head of Balliol College and 21st century historians, has serious issues with this. The historian they are sending is one of his favorite students, Kivrin Engle. Kivrin has been studying for this opportunity for a long time. She has learned to speak Middle English and old Church Latin. She has learned the arts and trades a woman needs to survive in 14th century England. She has been inoculated against all the diseases the contemps were want to get, including the Plague. This was an extra precaution on her doctor's part. Kivrin is going back in time to 1320 not 1348, when the Plague reached England. Except, oops. A mistake was made and Kivrin ends up in Oxfordshire, December 1348. The same time the Black Death arrived.

At the same time things are not going so well in 2054 either. An hour after Kivren is sent back the lab tech who set her coordinates collapses after announcing that something went wrong. He is rushed to the hospital where it is discovered he has an unknown virus. Oxford is immediately put under a quarantine and people start dropping like flies. The hospital is overrun in a matter of days. Everything is in chaos. It is Christmas so there are no techs at Oxford, except the unconscious one. Dunworthy only knows something went wrong with the drop, not what. In a climate of fear Gilchrist, the acting head, shuts down the Net, effectively trapping Kivrin in the hell to which they have sent her.

The novel is told from the third person limited point of view alternating between Kivrin and Dunworthy. Through their voices we see the same tragedy playing out in two separate centuries. Even with all of the medical technology and know how of 2054 there is nothing that can be done against an unknown pandemic. In each time period humanity is displayed in all of its fear, hate, hope and love. The stories parallel in many ways. Character traits, both likable and not so much, show up in people of both times. Church services, the ringing of bells, the devotion of care takers, the cowardice of some and the bravery of others are present in both stories.

This is not an easy book to read. But it is a great book to read. It does have a body count. Characters you despise will die. Characters you love will die. It is tragic and wonderful at the same time.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Brandy, why is it hard to read, is the language difficult, the writing style, or the subject matter?

Brandy Painter The subject matter. The book is a little over 500 pages and I can usually read a book that size by an author I like in two days. This took me closer to five because I just needed to take breaks. The 2054 scenes are intense and the 1348 ones rather dark. It is aptly titled. But it is a really great story and I would actually read it again and highly recommend it to others.

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