There are two settings in this book: the Oxford University History Department in the year 2054, and Medieval England in 1348.
In 2054, the history department at Oxford is using time travel to amend and correct historical records, and so it allows Kivrin, a young woman studying history, to go back to 1320 for research. Unfortunately, an error drops her 28 years later, right into the time period of the Bubonic Plague.
The book alternates between 2054 and 1348 as the historians try to get Kivrin back, and as Kivrin fights for her life. As we get to know the people with whom Kivrin stays in 1348 and learn to care about them, we live through the Plague as vividly and poignantly as she does. And we live through Kivrin’s terror that she may never get back.
Connie Willis is a remarkable author for several reasons. One is that she so thoroughly researches her work that this account of Medieval England is as extensive and accurate as any you will get in any academic study. The second is that books by Willis focus extensively on miscommunications – sentences only half spoken, or misunderstood, or never conveyed, or conveyed too late, or lost in dreams. The tragic as well as comedic consequences of not communicating well are a recurring theme in her work and serve to provide dramatic tension as well as sociological commentary.
This book is classified as scifi rather than historical fiction, but it could certainly be well-suited in either category.
Note: A more extensive review of this book, in which I compare it to the book Kristin Lavransdatter, is here. I should also mention this is one of my favorite books of all time.
Published by Spectra, 1992, and reissued numerous times.