Kivrin Engle is a young history student at Oxford University, whose dream it is to time travel back in time to the Middle Ages. You see, in the 2050s, historians have the option to travel back in time as a research tool, to truly discover what the past was like. Most historians travel back to the early to mid 20th Century, and there are certain periods that are deemed far too dangerous. The Middle Ages has generally been deemed one of them, due to the devastating effects of the Black Plague.
But Kivrin is to be sent back to the Oxford region around 1320, deemed to be safe enough, as the plague didn’t arrive there until 1348. She’s learned spinning and weaving, Latin, and Middle English. She’s had a translator gadget installed and a slew of inoculations to protect herself. The history department have constructed an elaborate back story for her, to explain why a young woman would be travelling alone in a period when women were never left unattended. Despite the constant worry of her tutor, Mr. Dunworthy, she is determined to go on this brief two week adventure, to observe Christmas celebrations in the past.
Despite Mr. Dunworthy’s fussing and protestations, Kivrin is sent back in time as planned, only to discover that book learning and reality are very different things. Instead of arriving close by a road, she is transported into a wood, and although the time travelling “net” that transported her, isn’t supposed to let diseases through, she’s clearly caught something nasty that’s making her dizzy and disorientated. She is rescued by a kindly priest and taken into the household of the local gentry, and once she recovers from her illness, is desperate to figure how to get back to her pick-up point, so she isn’t stuck in the past forever. As she’s travelled back to the right time of year, it takes her a while to realise that she’s not in 1320 after all, but that something has gone badly wrong, and she is in fact, going to witness first-hand the ravages of the Black Plague in England in 1348.
Mr. Dunworthy worries terribly for Kivrin, and once the technician who set her coordinates in the past collapses with a high fever after gasping that “Something is wrong!”, he is even more frantic. Dunworthy and his doctor friend Mary Ahrens (who gave Kivrin all her inoculations) are all too soon stuck in a medical quarantine, after the mysterious virus which knocked out the lab technician seems to be spreading with worrying speed and more and more people succumb. Having to work out the logistics of how to house, feed and accommodate people stuck in Oxford during the quarantine and figuring out where the virus originated from becomes more of a priority, but Dunworthy still doesn’t stop trying to figure out what has happened to Kivrin. He’s determined to get her fetched home safely, no matter what time period she ended up.
I don’t read a whole lot of science fiction, but when it’s the topic of choice for the Cannonball Read book club, I couldn’t very well refuse to join in. As a historian myself, with a particular interest in the Middle Ages, a book in which historians actually have time travel at their disposal seemed like it really was designed to appeal to me.
Full review on my blog.