Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review of The Doomsday Book

Book #40. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. Unabridged Audio.

Connie Willis is a very well-regarded novelist, and rightly so. This book, her third published novel, received numerous award nominations, winning both the Hugo and Nebula. The book’s “high concept” can be summed in a single three-word phrase: Time-traveling Oxford historians.

In the year 2054, Kivrin Engle travels back to the 14th century to complete her studies, but things get more complicated when she arrives a few decades later than she had planned. In the middle of the Black Plague. And she brings the flu with her from her time period, and the outbreak in her own time seriously impairs her team’s ability to retrieve her. She assumes she is never returning home. They assume she is dead, either from the flu, or from the Plague.

Jumping back and forth between the 14th and 21st centuries, Willis is able to tell two compelling narratives. This becomes quite a suspenseful read, as well as an interesting take on the rescue novel. Kivrin’s textbooks and training have not prepared her for life in the Dark Ages as well as her Oxford tutors had promised. It takes her longer than expected to adapt to the language, for example.

Willis does a good job of injecting humor into the book where needed, as well as developing a large cast of characters. Many of the people Kivrin meets in the past are well developed, and her friendship with many of those people, in the midst of their fear and grief, adds an emotional underpinning to the story. This is a compelling, engrossing, and entertaining novel.

Narrator Jenny Stirlin does her standard excellent job. Because of her past work on the Mary Russell series of Sherlock Holmes novels, it took me a while to get used to her with this set of characters, but that is my fault, not hers.

Note: Connie Willis has been interviewed numerous times on Mur Lafferty’s excellent podcast, “I Should be Writing.”

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