Connie Willis is a great novelist, not just a genre writer. The Doomsday Book effectively weaves together a strand of the future and a strand of the past for two compelling adventures in one solid frame.
Though some of the future world-building is less imaginative than is her treatment of the Middle Ages (especially where high-tech communication, Centers for Disease Control, and pedestrian travel are concerned), both stories wrap around each other to make you care very much what happens at “the drop” in the time travel net–and to everyone involved in the expedition. Actually, other than the time travel expertise, most of the “future” reads like the present–but the ability to drop historians into different epochs and then retrieve them makes up for that deficiency. While the scientists of the “future” are trying to track down the origin of a new flu variant, the heroine is lost in a small English town in the Middle Ages, and her colleagues battle the laws of physics, a fatal flu, and each other to find her and bring her back. The details of life in the Middle Ages were especially compelling, especially as people begin to lose hope and wonder if the heroine will ever return to her “pre-drop” life. Her efforts to fit in, her fears that she will die before she can find the point of return, and her constant uncertainty about the mores of the people she is living among turn out to be surprisingly suspenseful (will she be burnt as a witch…cast out and abandoned…sent to a convent for the rest of her life?). Her relationships with her hosts’ children and the parish priest are especially moving, and Jenny Sterlin does a great job of sounding like a tired, grouchy little girl, a lecherous overweight nobleman pawing his 12-year old “fiancee,” as well as a devout yet uneducated priest, casting a spell that lasts for over 26 hours of reading time–quite a feat!
I enjoyed the book even more than I expected to–definitely worth a credit.