THE DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis

This time travel story takes place in England during the Black Death of 1348. Once again, the Complete Idiot’s Ultimate Reading List has struck solid gold! When I read the last page of THE DOOMSDAY BOOK, I put the book down and thought blankly at the author, “Jesus Christ, lady. You’ve written one hell of a book.” And she HAS.

This is the story of a female history student in near-future Oxford who plans to a trip through time to 1320 for a temporary research project. When an influenza epidemic sweeps through Oxford and strikes the technical staff who are helping her, an unprecedented “slippage” occurs, and Kivrin winds up in England during the Black Plague of 1348. Viewed as a saint when she’s seen “coming through”, Kivrin becomes a symbol of hope and grace to the beleaguered medieval family that shelters her. But, as the deadly plague sweeps medieval England and an influenza epidemic of unknown origin decimates present-day Oxford, time is running out for everyone—-both in the future and the past–and Kivrin’s temporary “research project” risks becoming both permanent and fatal.

I don’t feel I’ve done the book justice with this slipshod summary. Why did I love it so much, aside from absolutely dead-good writing? Meticulous research shows in the unusual and surprising details of daily life in medieval England seen through Kivrin’s modern eyes, and the story revolves around an intriguing and fresh take on the mechanism of time travel (picture dusty English professors, riven by academic and bureaucratic rivalries, fluttering around a time machine). In both the past and future narratives, which are presented in parallel, the story hums with exquisite tension on every page, and the plot is driven by a cast of diverse and highly sympathetic characters who struggle to rescue Kivrin from the past as everyone around them in both timelines drops like flies.

This was that rare book, a time travel/historical novel that I liked as well as I like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, which is saying quite a lot. I’d recommend this one to fans of Gabaldon’s well-known Scottish time travel series, to fans of medieval history, time travel and bio thrillers, and to anyone who’s looking for an absolutely riveting read. There’s no sex or romance, no strong language, but some tasteful yet horrifying descriptions of how an epidemic decimates a population. Really–do yourself a huge favor, and read this book!


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