(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com)
As you can see, I read this novel for Dreams and Speculations' Women of Sci-Fi book club (click the button above for more information.) I've also been wanting to read Connie Willis since reviews of her latest novels, Black Out and All Clear, have started cropping up. It seems like a really interesting mix of sci-fi and historical fiction, and I like both, so I figured it would be my cup of tea. Overall, I liked this title as a whole, but I do have quite a few nitpicks as well. Of course, I liked it for a reason, so I'll go over the good stuff too. ;)
I guess I'll start with the stuff. Well, for one, time travel to do historical research is kind of awesome. This really appealed to me; I'm not an all out history geek, but it's my second favorite subject (next to English.) While the rules of the net seemed to be a way-out to avoid a lot of the troubles that come with time-travel, I still appreciated them because they kept the whole thing uncomplicated.
I also liked pretty much all the characters all right. Actually, no, not that's not true. I absolutely *hated* some characters, like Mr. Gilchrist. That man was so IRRITATING. And Mrs. Gadsbury (I think that was her name?); she was equally annoying, but at least her shenanigans provided some funny moments courtesy of Mr. Dunworthy. Aside from those two though, I liked everyone okay. Mr. Dunworthy, while a worry wart, was really just a concerned old fellow, and I found his concern for Kivrin touching. Kivrin wasn't anything spectacular, but I liked how normal she was; she's just a girl who wants to see the Medieval ages. I think my two favorites were Colin and Mary. Colin was very charming, and he takes everything that happens to him in stride (such as having a shitty mother and having his great-aunt die. :( ) Mary was very in control, and level-headed, and I loved her down-to-earth attitude.
I also loved how gritty this novel was. Well... maybe gritty is the wrong word for the present-day story line going on, but it definitely applies to the Medieval story line. It is not glamorous, and by the end of the novel, everything is VERY grim. The ending was probably one of my favorite parts of the novel as a whole, which sounds kind of bad, considering everyone is dying left and right, but it was all very visceral. I was surprised by how unaffected I was by it all though; I'm a huge wuss and I get very emotional very easily, but I didn't shed a tear during any of this. I still can't decide whether there was something missing, or if I had just become emotionally numb to the whole thing because it was one thing after another. No one was spared during the present-day story line either; a lot of people die, one of which was Mary (which broke my heart by the way!! Still didn't cry, but I was super sad for Colin, who took the whole thing so well, and for Dunworthy as well, who was unconscious when it happened.)
Now for the stuff I didn't like as much.
First off, the page count; I don't have problems with long books, but I think this one could have been snipped. I felt like there was A LOT of repetition. Kivrin ponders at the functionality of her translator when she lands in the Medieval ages ad nauseum; Dunworthy similarly worries for pages and pages about Kivrin, oftentimes repeating the same thoughts and worries for paragraphs and pages at a time. This one I was a little more willing to accept, because when one worries about something that badly, you do repeat to yourself. BUT, it still grated on my nerves sometimes.
Also, the way they withheld information drove me insane! Badri kept getting interrupted when trying to say what was wrong, and I was literally shaking my e-reader going WHAT THE HELL IS IT!?! I guess they had to keep it a secret though so that when Kivrin realized she was in the wrong year, it was all the more shocking. Still drove me insane though.
Those two things, along with the annoying-ness that was Gilchrist and Mrs. whats-her-face, were the only things that bothered me about this novel.
Final Verdict: Despite being repetitive in some regards, and having two of the most annoying characters I've ever read, this was an overall good reading experience. Time traveling historians is an awesome idea, and made for a good mix of historical fiction and science fiction (though I honestly think the science fiction is sort of lacking -- these people don't even have cell phones; I know this book was written in 1992, but Willis didn't foresee portable phones in the 2050-something?) There's a good cast of characters (despite the aforementioned annoying ones) and while there isn't a lot of action, there's still a lot of tension to keep you turning the pages. It was also very visceral, especially the ending, which packed a good (albeit sad) punch. I think overall I enjoyed Kivrin's plot-line more, but the Dunworthy's was still good too. I'll definitely check out Willis' other works. :)