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Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor.

I was so looking forward to reading this book. Highly recommended to me, when I saw the fabulous title (it’s a ripper) and read the synopsis, I was in. What’s not to love about historians who actually time travel and work for a shady-kind of organisation (St Mary’s) that investigates the past, with often drastic consequences? I was under the impression it was a lark, fun with lashings of history and great characters (they were historians, after all).

Well, it was certainly a lark – a romp even – through the very quick and barely explained training of a young historian with attitude, Max, before she sets off on dangerous adventure after adventure, earns the enmity of terrible people, the love of someone we’re led to believe is a good man, and saves the organisation in the process… or does she?

I initially thought this must be a YA book – or rather, a book for VYA (V for Very). There was something in the style and language which I thought would appeal to that age group (and I love good YA fiction). No. I soon encountered some quite bloodthirsty and descriptive sex scenes which countered that idea. Nevertheless, as I read about Max’s training, the colleagues she worked with, the very notion of time travel itself and the rationale for engaging in the same, I went along for the ride. I actually enjoyed it and because it was Easter, put up my feet and kept telling myself not to be so concerned with the lack of history, of depth of character; to ignore the inconsistencies… only, in the end, as “fun” as the book was meant to be, I simply could not.

I am all for suspending disbelief and going with the flow, particularly when the writer creates a compelling world and populates it with rich and interesting characters. There’s no doubt, the premise behind this series is fabulous. The problem for me (and I seem to be very much in the minority), is the characters – particularly the main one. Almost without exception, they were shallow, immature and, as I said above, inconsistent.  For example, Max’s love interest (and their romance seems to be fine – unconvincing, but fine), despite her going to courageous and incredible lengths to prove, among many other noble things, her love for him, believes the cruel and viscous words of someone who tried to kill her. Worse, he then goes and verbally abuses Max in a brutal public tirade. It’s as if their own history, what they’ve meant to each other, what she’s just done, vanishes because of the words of someone he knows is determined to bring the woman he loves down… WTF? It was unbelievable and out of character. It really, really pissed me off. Then there’s the fact that sexual predators loom large at moments that jump out of nowhere. Now, there’s a degree of sad truth in that. However, in this book, their actions (the predators) seemed to occur to drive the plot in a different direction, or shine light on another character (or the main one), not because that’s the behaviour you’d come to expect from them in terms of their character development or, for that matter, their storyline to date. They just suddenly become sexual aggressors…

The immaturity of the characters is hard to swallow at times. I am all for hard-working people cutting loose and playing practical jokes and all the other kinds of things people do in stressful and life-threatening situations, but this wasn’t about that. It was more to do with the way they interacted with each other, the petty and worse jealousies, the language they used. I can’t explain it except to say, having worked in an academic environment for years and with the best and worst of people (like any working environment), I have never met people so juvenile as they were represented in this novel. The characters not only lacked gravitas, but an emotional depth – yes, I think that’s what bothered me. The lack of emotional depth. It’s hinted at (especially with Max), but never, ever explained. Maybe it’s being saved for a later instalment – eg. her childhood demons. But these characters were able to rise above deaths of even beloved colleagues (admirable, in some respects) and continue with their work, but not above someone getting a better gig… No, that brought out a kind of Dastardly Dan/Cruella DeVille type villainy and murderous intentions bwahahahahaha…

Likewise, for a novel focused on time, the times recreated were mostly unconvincing as was the presence of the historians in it. Travelling to an auspicious date during a World War and integrating with the people there (after the reader is told the historians must never change the time line or interfere – this is drilled into them, but the lead character continually ignores this), there is no explanation of how they’re accepted by the people in the period – and for weeks – and by the military and when the enemy is just around the corner. This is despite the fact that papers would have to be provided, passports, back stories and no end of proof as to who they were and why they were there. And how was it that historians, after a mere few weeks, were able to act as emergency nurses etc?  And not just in this period…

The other periods travelled to were superficially rendered and while in some ways that’s fine, as the excitement lay elsewhere, it would have been nice, and grounded the tale, if a little more time was spent on the time… if that makes sense? And just when you think I’ve finished pointing this stuff out, there’s also the fact that after what seems like no time, we find out Max has been at St Mary’s for five years! Since when? How can a book about time be so careless about representing the passage of real time?

Look, I could go on (it was just one damned thing after another), but I won’t. Despite all this, I really enjoyed aspects of the book. Will I read more in the series? I don’t yet know. I am worried the cons outweigh the pros for me. But, as I said above, I am very much in the minority with this view. Most people have read and adore this book and, indeed, the series and good for them. And that title (and the others) is just so good…

 

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