I’m a big fan of time-travel stories as long as they don’t mess with my brain too much. I also happen to study a degree with a lot of uncertainties and unknowns — things we just can’t extrapolate from the very limited sources available to us. More than once I’ve thought how nice it would be if we could travel back in time to find out exactly what happened. Not to interfere or change anything, just to know for sure exactly what went on.
When I came across Just One Damned Thing After Another on Goodreads, which explores that exact premise, I couldn’t resist buying it.
The protagonist, Madeline Maxwell (known as Maxwell or Max), loves History. She finds herself joining St Mary’s, an organisation dedicated to exploring historical events in contemporary time. They’ve got pods that they use to travel back to a certain period, and they figure out exactly what happened. This carries plenty of dangers, and sometimes History herself isn’t on your side.
I really enjoyed this. Not only is Max an interesting and engaging protagonist — as well as a smart-mouthed stubborn History nerd, aka my favourite type of person ever — but the story has plenty of twists and turns without getting tangled. The book doesn’t stray too far into paradox territory, helping me to navigate the storyline, although it does veer that way in the later books in the series.
The Chronicles of St Mary’s series doesn’t pull punches. People die. Sometimes violently. There’s plenty of complicated emotions and hard decisions. Sometimes History means watching good people die for absolutely no reason, but knowing that if you change it you may wipe yourself and the whole world as you know it out of existence. This makes it a pretty emotional read — thankfully, there’s enough humour in there to counterbalance that and stop it getting too dark.
Also, Jodi Taylor understands exactly how important tea is. Which I appreciate. Tea is very important. Several times throughout the three books in the series I’ve read so far, we’re reminded that, “We’re St Mary’s. We run on tea.”
The eccentric, loveable, way-too-fond-of-explosions denizens of St Mary’s are thoroughly engaging and I found myself smiling as I read about their exploits — even when they weren’t hurtling around in the past they managed to get into plenty of trouble, which was great fun.
They’re definitely adult fiction books rather than YA, as there are a number of sex scenes, but on the whole it’s not got too much explicit content. There’s also quite a lot of violence, because History involves a lot of battles and they’re frequently very important. It’s not skimmed over, although it isn’t explored in too much gruesome detail, so this is something to be aware of if you’re a more sensitive reader.
On the whole, I had a great time reading this, even if it left me wistful — if only this were possible, my degree would get a whole lot easier. I wasn’t sure exactly what time period St Mary’s was using as its ‘base’: it seemed to be near future, perhaps mid-21st century, but that wasn’t made clear. Other than that, though, the worldbuilding was pretty cool.
The fact that I quickly went on to read book two (which was okay) and book three (which was really good) shows that I enjoyed it. And after book three’s cliffhanger, I’m going to have to carve out the time to race through the rest of the series.
It gets four stars from me, and I’ll leave you with a few amusing quotes.
“If this was one of those books, there would now be three pages of head-banging sex. The reality was that he pulled me close, whispered, ‘Mfhbnnntx,’ and I pulled his arm over me like a cover and muttered, ‘Trout,’ and that was pretty much it.”
― Jodi Taylor,
“The Society for the Protection of Historical Buildings was the official body whose task it was to oversee repairs and maintenance to our beloved but battered listed building. We had them on speed-dial. They had us on their black list.”
― Jodi Taylor,