This is one of the elite novels that won both Hugo and Nebula awards, there are not many of those and they are generally very good books though you and I can always find some titles to be undeserving, c'est la vie. Before starting on reading this novel I looked around Goodreads and Amazon for some consensus of opinion among other readers. I found the prevailing opinion to be on the positive side but it is always interesting to note the negatives also, in case the reviewers hate the same things I do. Among the unfavorable reviews a common criticism seems to be that this book is boring
. While I don't quite agree with this sentiment I understand it. We are bored by different things and have different levels of tolerance for certain kinds of plot or pacing.
While I enjoy time traveling stories I tend to prefer those with a lots of paradoxes, going back and forth, becoming your own granddad, causing a massive rift in the space time continuum, that sort of thing. My favorite examples of this would be The Man Who Folded Himself
by David Gerrold and the short story "All You Zombies" by Robert A. Heinlein. Any way, just going to one time period and getting yourself in trouble because you are just too damn modern doesn't really do it for me. So Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" does not do much for me and "Timeline" by Michael Crichton is possibly the worst time traveling book I have ever read (I like other Crichtons though).
Having rambled on thus far I have to confess that I like this book a lot
(and I can't italicize it enough!). Connie Willis' prose is nice and smooth, it reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold's prose style, with just the right amount of elegance and witticism without sacrificing clarity. The novel is immediately accessible from page one, which is always a bonus. This book is clearly character driven, though there are a few clever scifi concepts like the non-mechanical translating device recorder implant etc. Also, as this is generally a dark novel, the occasional interjections of humor is very welcome.
The main character Kivrin is a wonderful creation, by the end of the novel I feel like this is a real person I have come to know very well. She is courageous, compassionate, intelligent and vulnerable, Ms Willis certainly puts her through the wringer with this one, poor lass. Back to the "boring" allegation, there is some pacing or progression problem with this book, at times characters seem to be running around circle not advancing the plot very much. The search for Kivrin's entry point to medieval time also gets a bit tiresome. That said, whether you will find this book intolerably boring will very much depend on how invested are you in the characters and their plight. I am totally sold on them.
A very interesting question that the novel raised in my mind is since what happened in the medieval time has already happened as far as we in the present time are concerned, all the characters from that period have been dead ages ago, so does it matter to the visiting time traveller if they die or how they die? I think it does because when they are with you they are just people.