shezan warned me that this wasn't as funny as To Say Nothing of the Dog, and - well. It isn't.
But the last thing I expected was religious fervour. I came away feeling a sort of honour about people who served what they perceived to be god with all their ability, which is not something I feel a lot. Or ever. (Except during parts of Carpe Jugulum.)
'No one sent it,' Kivrin said. 'It's a disease. It's no one's fault. God would help us if He could, but He ..." He what? Can't hear us? Has gone away? Doesn't exist?
"He cannot come," she finished lamely.
"And we must act in His stead?" Roche said.
I mean, this was it. Before the true greed and corruption of the Renaissance and beyond, grubbing in the dirt with the other lowly in the eyes of God was how it worked. (Although I never did find out what Kivrin's stance on God was ... more on that later.)
... he said, without opening his eyes, "I feared you had gone."
She wiped the crusted blood by his mouth. "I would not go to Scotland without you."
"Not Scotland," he said. "To heaven."
This made me cry, and remember the kids who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in - was it France? Or Medjugorie? I read an account of it once (which I got from a monastery, and hence was probably a little biased in their favour - and that of the vision). The simple, innocent, complete belief.
This cloak, in spite of its rabbit-fur lining, wasn't warm at all. How had people survived the Little Ice Age dressed only in cloaks like this? How had the rabbits survived?
That was pretty funny.
I just ... I can't grasp the point of this book. In TSNOTD, it was about the extinction of cats and how tiny acorns grow into mighty oaks and it's always the butler and the interesting peculiarities of time travel. Also romance, which was sadly lacking here. 'Sadly,' because Willis does romance really well when she wants to. A five second interval about Roche's awestruck adoration for Kivrin didn't really fill the hole. Maybe it was about how true historians record history as it happens, no matter the peril to themselves. Yet this wasn't real history - Agnes et al were as much figments of Willis' imagination as everyone else. She went to a lot of effort to set up interesting dynamics in the family only to kill them off, one by one. There was nowhere near the level of complexity in TSNOTD, which was essentially a mystery novel.
Kivrin's motivations were never properly elucidated. I expected some kind of nemesis because she was so keen to go to the Middle Ages - um, why? Of all times? Gross - against Mr Dunworthy's better judgement. The punch of her being sent to the wrong year was ripped away by the blurb - my hatred for blurbs knows no bounds! - so I spent half the book going, 'Dude, I know she's in the middle of the Black Death. Get on with it already.' I have no idea why half a chapter was wasted on the difficulty in getting the translator to work, when it worked fine after five minutes and its dysfunction had no impact on the plot whatsoever.
As well, it wasn't funny, as shezan rightly pointed out. There was a lot of 'Dunworthy went here and then there and did this and saw Finch and saw Montoya and saw Colin and did something else.' It was ... superfluous, added pages to the book, and in light of the invention of mobile phones and the internet, is a conceit that aged poorly.
Not to mention that, because there was so much action, there was relatively little character development. I'll never forget the screamlets from TSNOTD. I spent hours with both Kivrin and Mr Dunworthy, yet I saw nothing of their real thoughts. I wondered if it was going to go in a Kivrin/Dunworthy direction early on, but there wasn't even that. Weird.
Finally, I thought she said in TSNOTD that you could only bring contemporary materials through the net. So why was Colin able to bring a pocket torch, a locator and aspirin to the Dark Ages?
Does anyone know if all her books are about the same people/place/time machine? Not that I mind reading them out of order, I'd just like to know. Now with added spoilers of same!
Previously, on Book Glomp 2008:
Middlemarch | Invisible Monsters | A Thousand Splendid Suns | Love in the Time of Cholera | Oscar and Lucinda | Kim | Breakfast at Tiffany's | Atonement | To the Lighthouse | On the Road | Brideshead Revisited | Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Bonjour Tristesse | A Passage to India | Three Men in a Boat | Vile Bodies | Prozac Nation | The Heart of the Matter | Jinx; Airhead