A Second Chance: Are there no rules?

A Second Chance by Jodi TaylorA Second Chance by Jodi TaylorA Second Chance by Jodi Taylor

I was disappointed in A Symphony of Echoes, the second book in Jodi Taylor’s CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S, but I had already purchased most of the rest of the series at Audible, so I read the third book, A Second Chance (2014). Unfortunately, it has all of the problems of the previous book and I don’t see things getting any better in the future.

In this volume we again get a series of loosely connected time-travel adventures: Max witnesses the fall of Troy, visits Isaac Newton, watches an African tribe cross the Gate of Grief, attends the Cooper’s Hill Cheese race, meets her nemesis in the Crustacean Period, and gets caught up in the Battle of Agincourt.

This jumping around in time and all over the globe is, I think, part of the charm of this popular series for many readers, but to me it felt disjointed and sloppy. There’s no coherent purpose or theme, just a willy-nilly (advertised as “madcap”) hopping around history with Max telling us what’s going on at each place/time she visits. Readers who are not history buffs will learn some interesting facts and speculations from these episodes (especially the Troy visit), but mostly it is a cursory tour through a series of unconnected historical events, similar to a high school history textbook, except not even organized by time period or geographical location.

Chronicles of St. Mary's Series Jodi Taylor

The Chronicles of St. Mary’s

This aspect of the novel is forgivable, though. What’s not forgivable are the problems I’ve mentioned in my reviews of the previous books (Just One Damned Thing After Another and A Symphony of Echoes). The characterization continues to be weak. The romantic tension relies on contrived drama such as Max and Leon (both competent and well-educated adults) each having the emotional IQ of a hedgehog and somehow not managing to get the time to speak to each other for months at a time despite living in the same building. Their interactions never ring true and when they finally have a dinner together in A Second Chance, they strangely manage to say only a few sentences before the check arrives.

The most egregious problem, however, is the lack of adherence to the rules. We’ve been told that history doesn’t allow St. Mary’s historians to meddle with it and that they cannot go forward in time, but both of these turn out not to be true. One wonders why, when someone dies, they can’t just go back and do the history over. There are so many time paradoxes introduced in A Second Chance, especially at the end of the novel, that there seem to be no rules left. Similarly, the way Max enforces St. Mary’s rules keeps changing. One day she’s such a stickler that she threatens to kill someone for interfering with history, but another day someone else has to stop her from doing the same. Her actions and attitudes are inconsistent (this is part of what I mean by “weak characterization”).

I can’t get over these types of issues but, obviously, many readers can. At GoodReads, the thousands of readers who’ve stuck around for book three (as of late May 2017) gave A Second Chance an average rating of 4.31 out of 5 (and 4.6 out of 5 at Audible). So, there you go. These books are like cotton candy and Jodi Taylor has an amusing voice. The St. Mary’s jokes (e.g., their smoke detectors have no batteries) are starting to get old, but I did laugh several times and I have to say that I loved the joke about Donald Trump’s hair.

I still own more of the ST. MARY’S CHRONICLES in audio format. (The audio performances by Zara Ramm are terrific.) I may try to return them or I may review them. Haven’t decided yet.

Published in 2014. St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another. The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese-rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose. So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. These sound a little bit like Mr Peabody and his Boy Sherman, the cartoon show.

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