What a mess. A glorious, glorious mess. Let no one ever say that Just One Damned Thing After Another is a book that fails to live up to its title.
Meet Madeleine Maxwell, a recent graduate specializing in ancient history who is offered a mysterious job interview by an old mentor at St. Mary’s Historical Research Institute. After the fourth or fifth explosion goes off during her interview, Max is pretty sure St. Mary’s is not your average musty research library. Oh, they do research. They’re just a little more…hands on about it, in a “time travel into the past” sense. Time-traveling historians: saving the world one centuries-old controversy at the time. Think of them kind of like a big collective bunch of Doctors Who, but less “proper Englishman” and more “Disrespectful Twerp in the Back Row of Your English Class.”
These historians are not going back in time to drink tea with Johnson; they’re more concerned with more, er, interesting times, as ill-advised as that may sound (the Peterloo Massacre: the name alone conjures up images of such merry hi-jinx!). But just as Max begins her own adventures in the past, her new job takes an even more dangerous turn. As difficult a time as they have changing the past on the best day, the historians of St. Mary’s soon learn they aren’t the only history meddlers in the game—and the other group is not so much zany, as downright diabolical. Soon, Max is all twisted up in a race against time, to save the timelines…Well, you know. All sorts of time.
This is but the first volume of a projected 10-book series, and Taylor is clearly having a great time figuring out what kind of crazy she wants it to be. In the meantime, the thing bubbles along under its own fragrant steam. The concept’s potential speaks for itself—history nerds might spend as much time reading as they do daydreaming about the possibilities of a Choose Your Own Adventure dive into the distant past.
That charm can in large part be attributed to the characters. Max is a wonderfully madcap creation, a go-getter who rarely considers the consequences of actually getting, running full speed straight into (and through) walls. She favors witty British repartee, with a gun in one hand and the other doing something that’s probably illegal in several countries. The surrounding cast matches her, a motley roster of the archetypes you want, with a twist: mysterious, cultured leader Dr. Bairstow; those even more mysterious old ladies who seem to always just be around; competent Chief Farrell; fierce, no-nonsense Kalinda; irreverent techs and security members, sweet Doctor Helen, and Max’s not-so-sweet, slippery, brilliant partner, Sussman. It’s a classic ragtag band, if ragtag bands had time machines.
But be careful, because Taylor’s jolly, jaunting world of historians can be rather too realistic at times, assuming you’re one of those who prefers their favorite characters remain mostly in one piece. But that just helps raise the stakes and keep the tension-filled plot moving, and the pages turning faster. The action movie air to the proceedings can be genuinely exciting—we know when Taylor throws her characters into a trench during the Great War, the result is probably not going to be a happy Sunday afternoon outing.
Like Connie Willis’s much lauded Oxford time travel novels, Taylor has established a world with near endless potential—and you won’t have to wait long to play around in it again…and again. With seven volumes already on shelves in the U.K., Night Shade Books is playing catchup, with book two, A Symphony of Echoes, arriving July 12, and three more following before the end of the year. It’s a very good thing: these books are so perfectly bingeable.