This one (alone with its sequel: it’s one book across two volumes I guess) is nominated for the 2011 Hugo. I haven no idea why.
I’m a big fan of Willis’ previous book in this universe, To Say Nothing of the Dog. And this is in a very similar vein, but it just doesn’t work as well.
One thing you immediately notice is that, for time travelers, none of the characters ever seem to have enough time. They’re constantly darting around and being late for things. For solid months at a time. This translates to their internal monologues. I don’t think a character ever finished a complete thought before it got cut off. It’s a little ridiculous.
It’s even worse in Oxford. There, they have the luxury of really being time travelers. Being late to a drop appointment would be slightly inconvenient, but not the end of the world since it wouldn’t really affect the timing of their mission. It’s also strange that cell phones have seemed to vanish in the 2060s. The only way they seem to have to get a hold of each other here is by frantically running around from campus to campus.
There’s a lot of that in the past, too; but at least it’s not as glaring (since text messages hadn’t been invented yet). Even with that slight bit of plausibility, most of the book involves Three’s Company style escapades of two people trying to find each other and just missing one another as they both travel to where the other person just was. Repeatedly.
And the trains are late. And the buses are late. And places are closed.
It’s tedious in the same way that Three’s Company was tedious, but without Don Knotts to make it a little bit better.
And since they spent so much time running around trying to catch the right bus find the plot, there wasn’t a lot of plot. Mostly, it was just interruptions and train schedules.
The continuation of this in All Clear will have to be several orders of magnitude better if you’re going to convince me that this one deserves a Hugo. At least for now, I would just recommend you go read To Say Nothing of the Dog again instead.