Thinking carefully is something that happens to other people.
I lost my notes to this book, which is annoying me greatly. So I'm going to be a bit more vague than I want to be.
I could tell from the first couple of pages that I was going to have a great time with this book -- our narrator is Dr. Madeline "Max" Maxwell, a specialist in ancient history. She is charming, engaging, brash, and funny. She's a few more things, too, but let's leave it there. Essentially, she's a delight -- it almost doesn't matter what setting you put her in, what story you tell with her -- I'm in.
Thankfully, Taylor puts her in a crazy novel, one perfectly suited for her. When we meet her, Max is being recruited by a former mentor to join St Mary's Institute of Historical Research, a very strange research facility. These historians get their hands dirty in their research in the ways that no other facility on Earth can manage -- they have time machines to take them to whatever point in time they're studying so they can see ad experience history first-hand.
Sounds great, doesn't it? But things go awry -- in spectacularly bad fashion. But, for these Historians, where there's tea, there's hope. Using wit, sheer determination, and a little luck Max and her new colleagues will have to find a way to meet these new and dangerous challenges.
There's a lot more action and fighting than you'd think given that the book is about Historians and the Technicians who work with them. There's a lot of humor, some pathos, a little love -- and a little more sex than I'd prefer (thankfully most of it happens "off screen," but not all of it). The plot is impossible to summarize well -- it bounces around from point to point like a ball in a pinball machine. This is not a complaint, this is a description. Months will go by in a paragraph (or less) and then things will slow down for the events of a day or two. These are Time Travelers, after all, they can squeeze a lot of activity into a short period of time.
There are some other great characters here, too. Max has wonderful, loyal and capable allies (who happen to be interesting to read about); she has fantastic antagonists -- the kind of characters you can relish your annoyance/anger/moral superiority over; her friends are interesting, he love interest is about as fun as you could ask for, and is charming enough in his own right.
I wish I'd had the time to write this up when the book was fresher in my mind -- or if I'd not lost my notes. This book deserved a bit more from me. Basically, this book -- between characters, circumstances, plot and tone is what I'd hoped for from the Tuesday Next books. I have no idea if Taylor can keep up the freshness of the voice, the zaniness of the plot, and the engaging quality of the characters (particularly Max) -- it'll be tough to do. But I'm looking forward to finding out. I had a blast reading this one, and can't imagine that Taylor's charm wouldn't win over at least 87% of those who give this a try.
I checked reviews shortly after starting this. I saw a few from fans of the series who said this wasn't a good place to start, and a few from newbies to the series who said it worked fine for them as an introduction to the series.
I'm brand new to this series, and I'm going to say that the first group is probably more correct on this one. I got to the last minute of this audiobook and have no idea what just happened. "She's here"? Who's "she"? Why should I care about her? I have a feeling those who've read other works in the series would instantly know, but as a new reader I'm left completely in the dark.
I'm not going to completely cross this series off my list, but this entry didn't particularly excite me. The author's voice was nice and her narration wasn't terrible, but she had a measured way of talking that bored me. The story didn't particularly interest me, and the time travel logic seemed to be a little inconsistent, but I was mildly intrigued by the quirky characters employed at St. Mary's.
I hate to say it, but I'm a bit bored, and I haven't even been listening to this for very long. I wonder if it would be better with a different narrator? I like the author's voice, but apparently I've been spoiled by actor-narrators.
And I'm confused about how time travel works in this. At times, it's indicated that the timeline protects itself - time travelers couldn't change things if they tried, because they'd be prevented from doing so by the universe, possibly at the cost of their own lives. At other times, characters say things that indicate that time travelers could, in fact, have a disastrous effect on the timeline if they're not careful. So which is it?
So the last St. Mary's book, "And The Rest Is History"mangled my emotions with great skill, putting me through much more angst than any allegedly light story about time-travelling historians has a right to. In her introduction to "An Argumentation Of Historians", Jodi Taylor says that her publishers asked if she could make this volume a little less depressing. I think she managed that, but only just.
When Max says towards the start of the book:
"It had been a bad year but it was over now. I could look forward to the future"
I'm sure not a single reader will believe her.
There are lots of good things in this chronicle of St. Mary's. I was immediately back at home watching St. Mary's muddle through with stout hearts, awful luck and a reckless excess of pluck. We started off at a joust with Henry VIII and at the burning of Persepolis with Alexander the Great. It was all good stuff.
When it turned out that Clive Roland was back as the big bad and I became less pleased. This is a man with all of Time to choose from who still chooses to spend his energies plotting revenge on Max. He's apparently clever enough to avoid the might of the Time Police yet too dumb to kill Max on sight. I've had enough of that. I'd like a new bad guy. or at least the slow, painful and definitively final excoriation of this one. I found myself saying: "New balls, please!"
Then Jodi Taylor did it again. Just as I'd grown dissatisfied, Max ends up, lost, alone and with no hope of rescue in England in 1399 and we are treated to an engaging story of her efforts to make a life for herself there. This part of the book, which seemed like half of it, is wonderfully done.
The plot twist at the end holds up and explains a lot of the action but I didn't find it as satisfying as the 1399 section.
This was a good St. Mary's episode with some evocative pieces and it moves the story arc along but I'll be happier if/when we get a different big bad on the scene (although I'd be happy to applaud clever and violent revenge in the meantime.