16 August 2016

Books: Just One Damned Thing After Another By Jodi Taylor (2013/2016)

British author Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another started life a self-published series. Much like Michael J. Sullivan’s fantasy series I began to read earlier this year, there was several books out before a major publisher, Night Shade Books (a division of the independent US based Skyhorse Publishing ) began releasing the series for all of us to enjoy. While I find the premise interesting, on the whole, the book lacks direction, insomuch as much does happen (a lot of it off “stage”), and its heroine a bit two-dimensional.

“Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting. Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wakes.”

While Madeleine “Max” Maxwell is appealing, she is dense, snarky, and maybe too clever for her own good, she is also has everything fall into her lap, and Taylor makes it easy for Max to solve the countless issues that pop up along the way. This may help if this was a TV series designed for a broad audience not bothered by internal logic, but as a book series, you expect the main protagonist to actually figure out the problems. Here, like whole idea of time travel, a lot of stuff is glossed over (we solved this issue a few days later. How?). Still, I give Taylor credit for not really explain how time travel works in this (I’m guessing) alternate universe of England (shades of Jasper Fford’s Thursday Next here).

 “How does it work?” she asks the Chief. 

He just looked at me. Okay then, stupid question.

Trying to come up with a creditable explanation of time travel is always convoluted. Even my beloved Doctor Who has only scratched the surface on explaining how he does it.

There is a nugget of a great idea here, unfortunately Taylor decides that to leave most of that for later in the book, including introducing a villain that shows up for all of a few pages and seems only designed to tell the reader there are more books to come. What we get in the meantime is a mixed up bag of broad humor, paint-by-number rivals, romance, science fiction, history lessons and British people doing what British people do when confronted by things:  drinking a lot of tea. It was as if Taylor decided that the only way her books might appeal to a wider audience was to throw every genre into the bowl and mix it up. It generally works, but not enough for me to continue on.

This is unfortunate, because while the book does read and appear like a self-published title, with a stronger editor and maybe a rewrite, the book could’ve been more than the sum of its basic parts.  

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