Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: Review

Title: Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Publication Date: July 1992
Length: 578
Series: Oxford Time Travel (#1)
Reason for Discovery: John Green mentioned that he loved To Say Nothing of the Dog (#2) and Blackout (#3) and All Clear (#4) have been nominated for lots of awards, so I decided to read the first book in this series.

From GoodReads:

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin -- barely of age herself -- finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.

Five years in the writing by one of science fiction's most honored authors, Doomsday Book is a storytelling triumph. Connie Willis draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit.


In Doomsday Book, Kivrin, a student at Oxford University has a strong desire to travel to the Middle Ages. Luckily, in this universe, time travel is possible, and this is something that the professors in the different history departments in the colleges do on a regular basis. Even though not all of her advisers are excited for Kivrin to see the Middle Ages (it is rated a 10/10 for danger), she gets her chance.

This is where everything hits the fan. Right after Kivrin gets sent back in time, the technician who worked the time machine falls horribly ill. This is worrisome, because no one gets sick anymore. Soon, more and more people are getting sick in Oxford and a quarantine is put in place. Worse yet, before the technician falls into a delirium, he suggests that something went wrong with Kivrin's time travel trip. The book flips between what is happening to Kivrin in the Middle Ages and to Professor Dunworthy in the book's contemporary time. It is a race against time in both time periods.

This book is crazy good. Crazy good. Although you would think that Kivrin's journey to the Middle Ages would be the exciting story and the modern time story to be filler, both stories are really strong. From the beginning I was so worried about what went wrong with Kivrin's trip! Did she have what the tech had? Is she the cause of the Black Death? What went wrong with her trip??? At the same time, I was freaking out about what was going on in the contemporary time. Did Kivrin infect the tech? What caused the illness? How is Kivrin going to get home, if everyone is sick?

This book is a bit on the long side, and with the audio book, I felt like I was never making any progress. At the same time, every time I listened to the book, I really enjoyed it. It never felt like it was dragging. My best explanation for this conflicting set of emotions is that a large portion of the book is focused on setting up the pieces for the final act. I didn't feel like the initial acts dragged, but if I had to describe what happened in these initial acts, I would have to say "not much." In the initial acts, the focus is on the characters and creating that tension and fear. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book, but the last 30% of the book is incredible. I found myself staying up late, so I could just listen to 10 more minutes, 20 more minutes, 30 more minutes. I stayed up way too late last night, just so I could find out how it all ended. Let me tell you, when the craziness of the final act of this book hits, you feel all the feels, all the emotions. This is because so much of the book is focused on getting to know these characters and setting up the tension. I was almost in tears at the end, because things were happening to these characters that I had grown to care about and I felt so hopeless, which was an emotion that Kivrin and Professor Dunworthy were also feeling. 

I am looking forward to continuing with this series, because this book was amazing and the other three books in the series are supposed to be even better.

I give this book 5 out of 5 kitties.


9 comments:

Chene Sterckx said...
November 8, 2013 at 8:04 AM

Wow what a great review :) This book sounds awesome! Nothing better than a race against time! Awesomely written. I can't say the cover grabbed me but blurb and your review sold me :)

Chanzie @ Mean Who You Are.

Kimberly @ Turning the Pages said...
November 8, 2013 at 8:51 PM

Awesome review Pamela! I remember borrowing this book from the library when I was 13 and I just couldn't get into it but I've been thinking about picking it back up and giving it another try. I think I might just have to do that now especially after reading your review :)
-Kimberly @ Turning the Pages

kimbacaffeinate said...
November 10, 2013 at 6:43 PM

Pam amazing-tastic review, you have me excited and my heart racing with the suspense of it all and wanting to know what happen! I want.

Berls said...
November 10, 2013 at 6:59 PM

This is one of those books that you really can't judge by the cover - I would have passed it by! Can I say that as a Medieval Historian I'm already very envious of these characters?!!? The ability to go back in time to study the past! How awesome would that be? I'm excited to read it - Fantastic review!

Pamela D said...
November 10, 2013 at 10:51 PM

The cover is pretty plain, but the story is great. :)

Pamela D said...
November 10, 2013 at 10:52 PM

The book is great, you might want to try the audio book if the physical version doesn't pull you.

Pamela D said...
November 10, 2013 at 10:53 PM

Thanks! It really was suspenseful. Every time the POV changed I would yell NO! I need to know more about Kivrin/Professor Dunworthy! :)

Pamela D said...
November 10, 2013 at 10:54 PM

The other cover is just the title "Doomsday Book." I only picked it up, because I had heard good things about the rest of the series. I have also heard great things about her short stories too.

Kimberly @ Turning the Pages said...
November 11, 2013 at 1:40 AM

I'll keep that in mind thanks! :)

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