Just One Damned Thing After Another: Fun, fluffy time-travel tale

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi TaylorJust One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor SFF book reviewsJust One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Just One Damned Thing After Another is the first novel in Jodi Taylor’s THE CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S series. It’s got a fun premise that’s similar to Kage Baker’s THE COMPANY series and Connie Willis’ work. St. Mary’s is a shadowy, underfunded institution related to the University of Thirsk that recruits historians and trains them to travel to the past to witness historical events. Our main protagonist is Dr. Maxwell (just called “Maxwell” or “Max”), a historian with a tragic past and no family ties. In this first book in the series, we watch her get recruited, go through rigorous training, and become one of St. Mary’s clumsiest but best operatives with the help of an eccentric bunch of academics, engineers, and technicians.

The tone is mostly light-hearted and comedic, with essentially no attempt to explain the physics of time travel or to deal with well-known time-travel paradoxes. It’s not that kind of novel and the demanding SFF reader will be left with many questions about the logistics of St. Mary’s time travel. But the dialogue is clever and snappy and the prose is breezy, amusing, and easily digested. There is romance and a few sex scenes. However, there are also several frightening and grisly scenes. Maxwell’s work is inherently dangerous (e.g., she visits the Cretaceous Period to film dinosaurs, she’s a nurse at the front of WWI, and she gets caught up in the fire at the Library of Alexandria) but the menace is compounded due to an outside plot to bring down St. Mary’s. People close to Maxwell will die.

The story is exciting from the first page, but it’s pretty hard to forget that you’re reading a novel. The lack of any attempt to address the science and the inconsistency of the logistical rules is part of this, as is the problem that most of the secondary characters are not well drawn, they all seem a little too immature to be academics, and a couple of them seem to have major personality shifts just for the sake of some drama.Just One Damned Thing After Another: The Chronicles of St Mary's, Book 1 Audiobook – Unabridged Jodi Taylor (Author), Zara Ramm (Narrator), Audible Studios (Publisher)

But as long as you don’t take it too seriously, Just One Damned Thing After Another is fun. I’m happy to give the second book, A Symphony of Echoes, a chance. I’m reading the audio versions produced by Audible Studios. Zara Ramm is a wonderful narrator and I’d recommend these for anyone who plans to read THE CHRONICLES OF ST MARY’S. Just One Damned Thing After Another is 9.5 hours long.

~Kat Hooper


Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor SFF book reviewsJust One Damned Thing After Another was a wild roller coaster ride! It’s a time travel tale, but doesn’t care to get hung up on the theory or mechanics of it. The plot careens wildly around from place to place and event to event, and I just raced around with it. Mostly it’s about the adventures ― explosions! dinosaurs! conspiracies! ― but there’s occasionally some deeper introspection … though Jodi Taylor never lets it get in the way of the story.

At the invitation of a former teacher, Madeleine Maxwell, known as Max, applies for a job as a historian at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a rather secretive part of the University of Thirsk. It’s a little unclear what exactly her job will be, other than that it offers poor pay, worse conditions, and “a less structured existence.” Despite this unpromising description, Max decides to take a chance. She soon finds out that she’ll be part of a time traveling team of historians, investigating major historical events in the past. It’s a dangerous job: the mortality rate among historians is alarmingly high, and there’s something strange going on in the hierarchy at St. Mary’s itself.

Like Kat, one of the first things I noticed was how much Just One Damned Thing After Another owes to Connie Willis’ OXFORD TIME TRAVEL series, with university researchers using time travel to experience historical events first hand. As in that series, history resists any deliberate or inadvertent attempts to change its course, but in THE CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S, history’s resistance to change is rather more personally threatening. Dr Bairstow, the Director of St. Mary’s, tells Max:The Chronicles of St Mary's (8 Book Series) Kindle Edition by Jodi Taylor, Jodi Taylor

Think of History as a living organism, with its own defence mechanisms. History will not permit anything to change events that have already taken place. If History thinks, even for one moment, that that is about to occur, then it will, without hesitation, eliminate the threatening virus. Or historian, as we like to call them.

 

And it’s easy. How difficult is it to cause a ten-ton block of stone to fall on a potentially threatening historian observing the construction of Stonehenge? Another cup?

Although Just One Damned Thing After Another completely sucked me in while I was reading it, in the cold light of morning its shortcomings became more apparent. There are several inconsistencies in plot and characterization, particularly where one character, at a key point in the story, acts in a way that seems completely out of character for him. The plot focuses much more on action than depth; several events get glossed over that really could have benefited from more details, like the main character’s abusive childhood, which is referred to only in the vaguest of terms, but has a lot to do with the person she’s become.

Still, Just One Damned Thing After Another is indisputably a fun, exciting ride, as long as you don’t think too hard about it. Max is enjoyably obstinate and mouthy, especially toward those who try to push her around or take advantage of her. She narrates the story with a chatty, informal voice, and her banter with other characters is witty and sometimes very sexy. Read it, not for any particular intellectual benefit, but for the sheer fun of the escape.

~Tadiana Jones

Published in 2013. “History is just one damned thing after another.” 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 wake.

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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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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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4 comments

  1. Do you both think that some of the things that are glossed over in this book will be filled out more in subsequent adventures?

    • No. I think it’s not that kind of literature. In fact, I suspect that it will become more outlandish and eventually I’ll give up on these. That’s what usually happens to me with these sorts of series. Let’s hope I’m wrong!

    • I agree with Kat – I think Jodi Taylor isn’t interested in telling that kind of a story. If the next sequel shows up in my life as a freebie, I’d read it, but I’m not interested enough to pay more money for this series (which is currently up to 8 novels and multiple short stories).

      • I have most of the novels and short stories because I got them on a sale at Audible. So, I will give them a try.

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