After enthusiastically working my way through Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s books earlier this year, I learned that I’m pretty keen on time travel stories, especially where they involve historians observing stuff, rather than life-or-death missions to change the past/future. (Well, sometimes observation becomes life-or-death, but that’s a different matter.) So I requested The Syndicate from NetGalley in the hope that it might plug the gap before the next of Taylor’s books comes out and, thankfully, it did.
While longer than I expected when I started it (the Kindle edition says it’s 586 pages), I still managed to get through The Syndicate fairly quickly, probably because it has an engaging plot that doesn’t linger too long on any one subplot, but instead keeps you guessing with twists, turns and complications. From a mission to retrieve a lost manuscript, it becomes a story of evading and uncovering a serial killer, set against the backdrop of 1920s Paris.
The setting is well-developed, although in places I wasn’t entirely sure about the authenticity. For example, there was a reference to plastic badges, and I’m relatively sure that ‘plastic’ as we understand it didn’t exist in 1925 — bakelite, perhaps, but the term ‘plastic’ seemed out of place. However, these little details weren’t frequent, and I’m far from an expert in the period, so I didn’t find that they bothered me too much.
The characters, on the whole, were well-developed with clear goals, motivations and personalities, something I’ve found lacking in a few books lately. Stassi, for example, is keen to visit 1920s Paris in the hope of finding a clue to the identity of her parents. Gaige is a hilariously flirty and smart-mouthed type, but he has a good heart.
Stassi and Gaige actually had such a great relationship. They’re partners in the sense that they work together — they’re not romantically linked. Despite everything they’ve been through, they remain good friends, and aren’t in the least interested in each other in a romantic sense. Gaige is more interested in Stassi’s roommate, Molly. That friendship was also great, and I loved the emphasis on these different kinds of love in the book.
There is some romance, with a character called Charles, but while sweet it doesn’t dominate, nor does it overwhelm the other character relations. I’m a sucker for good friendships, and this story has them, both between women and with men and it’s great. The female characters seem to want to build each other up (mostly), rather than compete. It’s refreshing.
Possibly this is because the book is written by two friends — I hadn’t realised that until I read the ‘about the author’ at the end, but it turns out Sophie Davis is a penname for “two best friends, roommates, and now writing partners”. I guess that explains a lot about how close Stassi and Molly are, and I thought it was really sweet, too.
The 1920s isn’t a period that particularly interests me, but having studied The Great Gatsby at school, as well as its context, it was interesting to see figures and ideas I recognised. Plus, I’m down for any story that involves writers, which this did, from the fictional to the famous (like Hemingway).
I did find the book dragging in a few places, namely just because of its length, but had I realised going into it that it was going to be a long read I might not have been so impatient to finish. That’s the problem with Kindle editions — it’s not always clear how long they are when you start!
On the whole, the character relationships were definitely my favourite part about The Syndicate, because while the world-building was fresh there were still unanswered questions. It was nice to see characters who had genuine connections with the people in their lives, and it made them seem more real.
This was a NetGalley read and the book itself came out last week, I think — 1st March — so it may be worth giving it a try if you’re fond of time travel stories that don’t tie your brains in knots. I’ll leave you with a few quotes:
“Dudes don’t give other dudes flowers, Stass. I’ll send him some scotch — that’s a manly gift.”
(As you may have guessed, that was the wonderful Gaige speaking.)
“You owe me,” he repeated.
“You threw me off of a bridge!” I called pleasantly after him.
(Nitpick: I hate the phrase “off of”. But I think it’s conventional in American English, even if it sounds terrible.)
“Oh, no. No, no, no, no. Cyrus, you aren’t seriously sending me undercover in a sanitarium? In the 1920s? They still use electroshock to try and zap the lesbian out of women. And zipper you shut in bathtubs. No fracking way.”
“Did you become a lesbian in the last twenty-four hours?” he asked.
“That’s not the point.”
So yeah, on the whole an enjoyable and entertaining story. I’m looking forward to its sequels.