You’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but sometimes you can’t help it. In this case, it wasn’t so much the cover as it was the title. With a title like Just One Damned Thing After Another, it’s hard not to pick up the book after a long day being stressed at the office.
Plus the plot sounded interesting too. The book is about a historian nicknamed Max who joins a society called St. Mary’s, which uses time travel to do historical research. It promised to be very British (tea is called out specifically in the description) and there was something about saving the world from evil time travelers, etc. etc. It sounded similar to the Librarians or maybe a Warehouse 13 with more time travel and less artifact recovery. So I grabbed it off the shelf.
The plot runs basically in short episodes, but they all thread together. There’s Max’s initial introduction and interview, the training montage as she learns the necessary skills to work at St. Mary’s, her first trip in the pods, etc. But you’re never quite sure what it’s building up to until about halfway through the novel, when Max and her partner travel to the Cretaceous Period. Suddenly there is danger from other time travelers and a sort-of political coup at St. Mary’s. Eventually, Max saves the day and St. Mary’s continues its studies.
The best part of this book is undoubtedly Max (her real name is Madeleine Maxwell). It’s a first-person novel from her point of view, so everything is colored by her commentary. Fortunately, most of that commentary is hilarious or at least worthy of a chuckle. Max is irreverent, with little respect for authority, and loves to do things her own way. She has oodles of sass, and it makes the book fun to read even when you’re not really sure what the story is building to. It made me laugh out loud in several places.
It does have its flaws, however. I’ve already mentioned the disjointed, ambling nature of the plot, but there are other things. The science of time travel is all handwaved and never even remotely explained. While I get that Jodi Taylor needs this McGuffin to make the story work, I would have appreciate at least some basic explanation of how St. Mary’s developed the technology. Hell, I’d have settled just for knowing how they WORK – it’s all very ambiguous with just some punching in of carefully calculated coordinates and wham, you’re in eleventh century England.
I also have mixed feelings about her use of characterization. Max is overall well done, although there’s clearly some hugely traumatic event in her past that is never explained, only occasionally alluded to. It would have been nice to get a deeper exploration of that. The other characters also have a tendency to feel shallow and flat – I’d be hard-pressed to describe any of them with more than one or two words (except maybe Petersen, who is probably the most rounded after Max and whose friendship with Max warms my heart).
It’s still a fun book though, and it was good enough to get me to go buy the second one fairly quickly. It’s a short fun read, nothing too serious. Much like the Tearling novels, this book isn’t making any Best Of lists, but it’s entertaining and worth at least one readthrough.