I get asked to review a lot of books. When I was asked to review “Just One Damned Thing After Another [The Book Depository] [Waterstones],” which is the first book in “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s” series, I almost passed. The cover is rather unassuming, in browns and grays and what looks like stock clipart. Plus, nothing in the synopsis jumped out at me. However, after I read just one chapter, I was reminded of the old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover,” because I fell in love with the crew at St. Mary’s.
“The Chronicles of St. Mary’s,” by Jodi Taylor, follows Madeleine Maxwell, a.k.a. Max, a historian who gets recruited to work at St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s is a research institute, but their method of research is what makes them different: They time travel. Well, they don’t call it time travel. They say they study important historical events in contemporary time. But it’s time travel.
Max is joined by Dr. Bairstow, the stern taskmaster in charge of St. Mary’s; Tim Peterson, a fellow historian; Chief Farrell, head of the technical division; Major Ian Guthrie, the head of security; Mr. Markham, a security officer who does more damage than good; Dr. Helen Foster, the fearsome head of the medical department; Mrs. Partridge, who may not be who she seems; and dozens of other wonderful characters who come and go.
The characters in “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s” are so well-written that they feel more like friends and family than fictional characters in a book. You know a book is good when, after you finish the last page, you feel a pang in the center of your being because you already miss them. I’ve laughed with and at Max and her crew, and I’ve cried for them quite a bit too. Because “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s” is a lot of fun and games, but it also explores the tragedies of life and love. Taylor is incredibly adept at drawing you into a story that’s seemingly innocuous, only to drop you off a cliff and leave you panting and teary-eyed.
You would think that a series about time travel would be rife with plot holes and paradoxes, but Taylor manages to avoid the typical pitfalls of time travel stories. She has created a world with a set of intricate rules that allows the team to travel up and down the timeline without confusing us terribly much. And in Taylor’s inimitable, cheeky style, she occasionally gives us a knowing wink when a particularly knotty time travel problem arises and an outlandish solution presents itself. Everyone is in on the joke, even the characters.
“The Chronicles of St. Mary’s” series reminds me of the “Outlander” series, in that it’s hard to label. It’s part science fiction, part historical fiction, part romance and part satire. Taylor has created a concoction that is just delightful. There’s never too much of one of one tone. The balance makes the books absolute page-turners and terribly addictive.
How addictive? After I finished “Just One Damned Thing After Another,” I immediately bought the next book, A Symphony of Echoes. Then the next one. And the next one. Now I prefer to listen to them, because the narrator, Zara Ramm, is just fabulous. She sounds just like Max sounds like in my head. Plus, she can perform a variety of accents without sounding like someone who’s trying to put on an accent. She sounds just as natural as a public school Brit as she does a rough and rowdy Scottish Highlander.
There are a lot — I mean, a lot — of “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s” books. I haven’t read the novellas, which generally focus on a specific character. Regardless, I recommend that you read the main books in order to get the full impact of Max’s incredible story and how it unspools. Because just when you think Taylor can’t possibly come up with a new plot twist, you turn a corner and find yourself breathless.
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Copyright: Images on this post (C) Jody Taylor / Author banner made with a (C) Nancy Basile image.