SF Masterworks- Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: Review

I had never heard of this book until recently. It was part of a recent prize that I had won from Gollancz at christmas. I was in one of those moods in which I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to read next I picked up two books from Mount Toberead and after reading a few pages I knew that I wasn’t particularly in the mood for them at that precise moment in time. As I was perusing my shelves I spotted Doomsday Book and took it down and read the synopsis on the back.

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident, she lands in the middle of the Black Plague of 1348.
Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out …

Sold!
I love stories about time travel and enjoy all the paradox theories and connections between past and present or past and future etc. And as soon as I started reading I was hooked.
The story takes place in Oxford UK, in the year of 2054. The story begins with Mr Dunworthy, a lecturer at the university and a caring tutor, who is anxious at the prospect of Kivrin going back in time to the middle ages. There is something very father-like about the character of Mr Dunworthy which the reader can see develop more over the course of the novel.
Time travel is done in a way that protects the era in which the participant goes to, and also the participant themselves are prepared in a thorough manner before they embark. When a ‘drop’ is made the machine places a net around the precise location as well as the participant this is done in a way to not let anything come through from the past as well as ensuring minimal paradoxical effects. With me so far? Its not as complicated as I’m probably making it.
Kivrin has undergone intense lessons in etiquette of the 1300s as well as tutelage in the language and “adjectival inflection” of the period. Before the drop happens Kivrin also has to have inoculations against the diseases of the 14th Century and also her immune system is enhanced. So all bases are covered, the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, right?
Wrong!
Instead of being sent back to 1320, Kivrin has, allbeit unknowingly, been sent back to 1348 the year of the Black Death. And it would appear she has landed in Oxford at the precise time the horrific epidemic struck.

This book is ideal for fans of SF and historical fiction, the elements of both are beautifully intertwined that makes a book that is pretty hard to put down.
The characters are beautifully detailed and I genuinely cared about my favourites throughout the story. The events that unfold around all the characters bring them closer together in both past and present and poor Mr Dunworthy (with help of the over enthusiastic Colin), are run ragged trying to help in their time and also to save Kivrin.
This book will make you laugh and cry and hold your breath at the most surprising moments. I cannot give this book enough praise, all I can say is, THOU MUSTE READE THIS BOOKE!

Doomsday Book is part of the SF Masterworks series available from Gollancz now. If you are from the 1300’s you probably have a bit of a wait, and if you are lucky enough to partake in the joys of time travel, you can go back to 1992 and get it before anyone else!

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The Boy With The Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick: Review

Well I must say, reading The Boy With The Porcelain Blade was quite an experience.
I cried, and I laughed and I uttered expletives when something unexpected happened in the story.
Den Patrick has created a magnificent fantasy tale decorated with- what I would call, venetian-esque? I’m probably way off with that and it probably has a name, and more than likely is already a sub-genre.*
Anyhoo, I digress.
So, The Boy With The Porcelain Blade looks at the life of the Orfano, Lucien De Fontein.
The Orfano are children with unknown parentage that are fostered by noble families, and along with this each Orfano has a distinguishing disfigurement (Lucien has no ears and other Orfano have things like spines growing from their forearms).
The Orfano’s disfigurement is the driving force behind what they strive to become. Many others believe them to be Witches or (strega), which is an example of what people don’t understand they condemn.

Lucien’s journey is one that is not without struggle, and his journey sees him to the point of exile, at the same time he has a tenacity to see who or what is behind the curtain, and his search for the truth makes him a desired target.

The Boy With The Porcelain Blade is told through a series of chronological flashbacks that reveal to the reader events as they are now, and what they were before. This method does not slow the pacing of the story down, but it adds more pieces to the very dark and mysterious puzzle that Patrick has set in motion. The reader gets to see how Lucien is and what he has become, and reading how the character evolves is fantastic.
Lucien encompasses all that makes one human, the weakness, and at times the fragility of his soul, not to mention the desire to respected and also the knowing of what it is to be loved, whilst battling the merciless bullies that surround his daily life. The construction of the character Lucien, by Patrick is done in such a way that the reader feels for Lucien, and at times the struggle of Lucien and the futility of his journey, made me cry.

I highly recommend The Boy With The Porcelain Blade. A Strong, and compelling debut, that has unforgettable moments, and memorable characters. I look forward to reading more about Landfall and follow more of Lucien’s journey.

9/10

The Boy With The Porcelain Blade is out on the 20th of March from Gollancz. You can find out more about the author here, http://www.denpatrick.com and the author is on Twitter @Den_Patrick

*I’m going to coin the phrase and sub-genre Gondola Fantasy, (please note that there are no actual Gondolas in this particular novel but the term is being used to describe the italian influence in this book). You heard it here first!