Doomsday Book is the first novel in a series set by Connie in the same world of time travel which I have discussed in my previous posts on the other novels, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout/All Clear. Historians in the C21st travel back in time from the unit at the University of Oxford to research the past hand-on. In this case Kivrin Engle is a student historian, keen to see the Middle Ages for herself, in the face of misgivings from her boss Mr Dunworthy,
“Life expectancy in 1300 was thirty-eight years,” he had told her when she first said she wanted to go to the Middle Ages, “and you only lived that long if you survived cholera and smallpox and blood poisoning, and if you didn’t eat rotten meat or drink polluted water or get trampled by a horse. Or get burned at the stake for witchcraft…
“An unaccompanied women was unheard of in the fourteenth century. Only women of the lowest class went about alone, and they were fair game for any men or beast who happened along. Women of the nobility and even the emerging middle class were constantly attended by their fathers or their husbands or servants, usually all three., and even of you wren’t a woman, you’re a student. The fourtheen century is far too dangerous for Medieval to consider sending a student.”
In the end Kivrin is sent back by the Medievalists to Oxfordshire in 1320, equipped with a cover story of being a Lady who has been robbed and left on the road, abandoned by her servants. No sooner has she departed than Oxford is beset by a viral outbreak whose origins are unknown. Worse, the time travel operator Badri becomes very ill and it appears that Kivrin may be lost in time as something unexpected happened when she went through.
Back in the Middle Ages Kivrin becomes very ill on arrival but is taken in and nursed by a priest and local gentry family:
I’m ill, Kivrin thought, and knew that the warm liquid had been a medicinal potion of some kind , and that it had brought her fever down a little. She was not lying on the ground after all, but in a bed in a room, and the woman who had hushed her and given her the liquid was there beside her. She could hear her breathing. …I must be in the village she thought. The redheaded man must have brought me here.
After her recovery she stays on with the family, despite the suspicions of the family matriarch, Imeyne. She adopts the name Katherine and makes friends with the village priest, Father Roche, who comes to believe that she is a saint, sent from heaven to earth to help in a time of trial.
Back in Oxford Dunworthy is almost totally preoccupied with the deadly illness sweeping through the town which is now quarantined from the outside world. Slowly he begins to make sense of the illness and its link with the past, and of Kivrin’s plight and the danger that threatens her. The question is : is it too late to track her down and rescue her?
In this novel Connie paints a vivid picture through Kivrin’s eyes of the Middle Ages, a world utterly unlike ours in beliefs and mores and yet at the same time a place where there is poverty, wealth, greed, jealousy, pride, snobbishness, friendship, love and compassion, a world therefore very much like our own. Highly recommended.
Pingback: The joy of text: “I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land” by Connie Willis (2018) | Fantasies of Possibility
Pingback: “Connecting you now…”: Crosstalk by Connie Willis (2016) | Fantasies of Possibility
Pingback: Their Finest Years: Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (2010) | Fantasies of Possibility