Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.
With her trademark understated, eloquent style, Willis expands the conceit of her Hugo and Nebula winning 1982 story Fire Watch into a page-turning thriller, her first novel since 2001 s Passage. Three young historians travel from 2060 to early 1940s Britain for firsthand research. As Eileen handles a measles outbreak during the children s evacuation and Polly struggles to work as a London shopgirl, hints of trouble with the time-travel equipment barely register on their radar. Historians aren t supposed to be able to change the course of history, but Mike s actions at Dunkirk may disrupt both the past and the future. Willis uses detail and period language exquisitely well, creating an engaging, exciting tale that cuts off abruptly on the last page. Readers allergic to cliffhangers may want to wait until the second volume comes out in November 2010.