Time travel is not for the feint of heart. Neither is the past. People of every age think themselves more advanced than the previous age. Personally, I'm not sure if that's necessarily true; however, medicine and scientific advancements have, over time, eradicated some diseases and assisted in the overall health of many.
The Doomsday Book takes on time travel, health, welfare, England's National Health System, American bell ringers and scholars with heart. It's a riveting and compelling book that keeps readers guessing to the very end, and a book one is sad to see come to its very satisfying end.
When thinking about the Middle Ages, people often think of European royalty, knights, chivalry and other romantic notions. Well, there was a lot more to it: dirt, hunger, cold, disease, ignorance and oppression, for instance.
Kivrin Engle anticipated that as a history student at Oxford in 2053, and she wanted to experience it firsthand by being sent to the early 1300s, during the Little Ice Age -- the first woman scholar to be sent there. And there's a reason for that: on a scale of 1 to 10, the Middle Ages was long rated a 10 due to the Black Death (but later adjusted down). Sending her a few decades before the Black Death was first recorded in England seemed a little safer, and Medieval granted her permission to travel. She trained for years, learning the different languages spoken, taking horseback riding lessons, growing her hair to match the style of the time, studying religion and government, and more. Also, as a woman traveling alone at a time when that simply wasn't done, she created an alibi and learned how to support it. She would not go back unarmed, so to speak.
Kivrin also was fitted with a couple of modern enhancements: a voice recorder placed in her palm activated by pressing her palms together, as if in prayer, and a language translator embedded in her head to help her understand what was being said and how to respond.
However, the drop is rife with problems from the start. The department chair leaves on vacation and the acting chair, who just happens to run Medieval, moves the drop up by weeks. Everyone scrambles to meet the new deadline, from the doctors inoculating her against the bubonic plague (just in case) to Kivrin herself tearing up her nails on an archaeological dig near the town to which she will travel.
One scholar in particular is very troubled: James Dunworthy, a Twentieth Century scholar with whom Kivrin has studied. They have become very good friends, and he feels personally responsible for her health and welfare. He brought his own trusted technician to work the drop and he was on hand every step of the way of her studies. He is appalled by the cavalier approach Medieval is taking, especially Mr. Gilchrist, the acting chair overseeing the drop.
Both Kivrin and Dunworthy knew she had no idea what she was getting into.
Time travel allows for some "drifting," but drifts are usually no more than a couple of weeks at the most. The historian traveler might be surprised, but the drop is not compromised and the historian will be collected on time. All the historian has to do is get back to the net, the exact same location where they arrived, at the appointed time.
The trouble starts when Dunworthy's tech, Badri, seeks him in a pub he's visited with his friend Mary to wait for the fix. "Something's wrong," Badri says and drags him back to the lab.
Something is terribly wrong — for both Badri and Kivrin. Only Badri falls ill before he can tell Dunworthy what the problem is. Dunworthy is beside himself with worry. Kivrin falls ill before she can fully ascertain what went wrong with the drop. It's better for both Kivrin and Dunworthy that way — and for the reader as well.
Kivrin and Dunworthy both encounter people they never expected, but realize later they cannot have lived without. They realize just how important these people are and how important they were both to them personally and to the situations in which they find themselves. I will always love Finch for his ability to simultaneously freak out and handle crisis with great aplomb. Colin was a godsend, Agnes was a jewel and Roache gave me faith. Gilchrist was maddening, Mary was unflappable, William was miraculous and Mrs. Gaddson was unbelievable.
Of course, Kivrin and Dunworthy cannot really live without each other, either, and by the end of the story know the true meaning of friendship.
Frankly, this was a very compelling read. I regretted having to put the book down and found every opportunity to read, even if it was simply a few pages. I could not put it down. The characters were unforgettable and the storyline was exciting. Readers found out about issues as the characters did, and never did the author "leak" story information to the reader with obvious foreshadowing (you know, like "That was the last time she would ever see him."). It was literally a page turner.
I will have to tell my fellow reader at Literature and Latte just how wonderful his recommendation was, and I will in turn recommend it to anyone who loves time travel literature.