There have been two moments in my life when everything changed. Moments when things could have gone either way. Moments when I had to make a choice.
I have actually been reading Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s series, of which this book is the first, for quite a while now, and am fully up to date with their madcap escapades. However, reviewing a book that is not the first in its series feels a bit odd to me, so I’m going right back to my first experience of St Mary’s.
We join Dr Madeleine Maxwell (Max to her friends… and to everyone else as well for that matter) as she accepts a job at St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. On the surface, St Mary’s appears to be a collection of harmless history lovers sitting behind great piles of books keenly absorbed in the search for knowledge, extricating themselves only to put the kettle on again. Visitors are lucky if this façade manages to stand for more than half an hour. What St Mary’s actually is, is a collection of certifiably bonkers history lovers whose greatest threat is to themselves, followed closely by their Grade II listed surroundings, and just occasionally the entire course of history as we know it.
Let’s make this clear; St Mary’s DO NOT engage in time travel. What they do is to ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. (*COUGH*, it’s time travel, *COUGH*.)
We follow Max as she completes a rigorous training schedule which prepares her for bouncing around the timeline and getting in to the kind of trouble she has only previously been able to dream about. As a qualified historian, we follow Max from the building of Westminster Abbey, to manning a World War I hospital, all the way back to the Cretacious. St Mary’s are there to record, document, and answer as many of history’s unanswered questions as they can. Max soon learns that the tiniest action in the past can have dire consequences, and she must deal with a series of potentially deadly catastrophes in unfamiliar and threatening times, as well as in the one place she should feel most safe. Is St Mary’s the haven Max had first imagined?
I fell for this book around page 3, when Max arrives for her interview:
‘Go straight up the drive and through the front door. You can’t miss it.’
A bit over optimistic there, I thought. I once got lost on a staircase.
I had found a kindred spirit.
Just One Damned Thing After Another offered me humour, adventure, romance and education in equal measure. I never had much of a head for history at school, but Jodi Taylor’s passion for the subject shines through in her writing, and I find her descriptions completely engaging. Historical events are woven seamlessly into the story, which is, although slightly fast paced, one of the most forceful and exciting I have come across in a long time. As soon as I put down this first in the series, I knew I had to have all the rest. And I do; including the most recently published collection of short stories.
I may have found a kindred spirit in Max, but the whole cast of St Mary’s reprobates soon felt like family, and I laughed with them (and, probably more often, at them), commiserated with them, and feared for them. Jodi Taylor has created characters who I care about, in a way I find quite rare. With every novel in the series that I finished, my long suffering other half had to listen to me lamenting or celebrating the latest developments, and I torpedoed through the entire series as fast as was humanly possible. And now I’ve run out. And I’m very sad.
Around me, St Mary’s glowed gently in the late afternoon sunshine. Mellow and golden. The gold was picked up and repeated with variations in the autumn foliage. Apart from us, everything seemed serene and quiet. Peaceful, even. But for how long?