Tired of generic medievaloid historical novels? How about reading one written by someone who has studied the period, and knows the real deets—with a plot you can’t predict?
Gillian Polack’s Langue[dot]doc 1305 newly out from Book View Café, is about a group of scientists plus one historian taken back in time to the hills outside a small village in Languedoc in 1305
The one historian among the scientists, Artemisia Wormwood, feels like an outsider from the beginning.
This is a state she is used to; gradually we learn why, including why her name seems consciously peculiar. The scientists are enjoined not to reveal themselves to the natives being studied by some (the others are there to look at the night sky at that time, sample the soil, etc) and either are oblivious to the historian, who keeps trying to tell them about life in 1305, or are hostile to Artemisia and her posts.
The hostile ones don’t give a damn about paradigm—how people viewed the universe—in 1305, much less differentiating, or understanding, personalities.
Artemisia does care, and she’s curious, so when one of the scientists inevitably blunders and reveals their presence to the locals, it’s Artemisia who tries to fit their presence into the worldview of the locals, specifically a knight who also feels like an outsider. And that has consequences that underscore centuries of evolving notions of what it is to be human, and who is human.
Gradually the personalities become more compelling, though there are no big ticket wars or plagues (they do discuss the climate changes coming that will in turn lead toward the massive disaster of 1348); some are petty, some are generous, some mysterious.
Finally something happens that leads to a very powerful scene and revelation, before their time is up and they must shift back.
Polak breaks a lot of writing rules in this leisurely-paced tale. The narrative voice flips between various POVs in short scenes, and sometimes mixes POVs in slyly introduced omniscient. I kept wondering who was writing the story; the why gradually dawned on me, or a possible why, when we reached the end.
It’s a great change of pace from kings, kink, and battles, perhaps best appreciated by readers who love history, and find interactions between personalities interesting.
I think anyone who likes Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear, specifically the many short scenes, and a gradual rise in story tension, might appreciate this novel.