Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

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I was in the mood for no-thinky fun when I picked this up, and that is exactly what I got. Just One Damned Thing After Another is light, makes no demands of the reader except the suspension of disbelief and zips along at a cheerful pace (multiple deaths notwithstanding). It’s the first in a series, and while I don’t think I’ll be carrying on with it, it’s a good start for anyone looking for more than a one book deal.

Our heroine is historian Dr Madeleine Maxwell, (Max to her friends), who at the start of the book goes for a curious job interview at Thirsk University. The job is with the attached St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, where time-travel is the research tool of choice, (that’s a secret though, so don’t tell anyone). Max undergoes a pretty diverse training program along with the other new recruits and becomes a member of the mad-as-a-bag-of-cats team. Taylor draws her characters quickly and always with an eye to the funny side – the chain-smoking medical doctor “with the people skills of Vlad the Impaler”, the small and virtually indestructible security guard Mr Markham, the mad-scientist Head of Research and Development Professor Rapson, and Max herself, with her fantastically snarky voice and refusal to be pushed around by anyone.

There are things I don’t like about the book though, and I’m going to get them off my chest now so that I can finish up with something good to say. Naturally, these three complaints are entirely personal:

Number one: I discovered Connie Willis first. Willis’ Oxford Time Travel books are amazing. She also writes with humour, but she writes with massive heart too and her books can make me both laugh and cry in the space of a chapter. They always leave me satisfied and with a real sense of having been on a journey. As soon as I started reading Just One Damned Thing… I couldn’t help but compare it to Willis’ books, and unfortunately, it just didn’t stand up to the scrutiny. Yes, it’s a very different entity, but there was no sense of the passage of time in the story (although I think that about five or six years elapse over the course of the book), or the development of the characters, and I felt at the beginning as I did at the start. This was a flirtatious glance across a crowded room versus my deep and meaningful relationship with the Oxford Time Travel books.

Number two: I think I may have mentioned before that for a long, long time I didn’t like time-travel stories. And while I’m mostly cool with time-travel now, Just One Damned Thing… awoke some of that old distaste. So that dude is from the future? And he’s come back to change the past so that his future won’t happen? Hmmm, how’s that gonna work out for him, then? He exists to make the changes, but as a result of the changes he may not exist, so then he can’t make the changes … no no no no no!!!! I can’t think about it anymore. On the flip side of this, and without spoiling anything for anyone who wants to read the book, Max comes up with something towards the end of the story that will kind of change St Mary’s role and get them some much-needed cred, and it’s a pretty cool idea that didn’t offend my time-travel-distastometer quite as much. So, there’s hope maybe …

Number three: From the moment Leon Farrell appears he is obviously going to be the love interest *eye-roll*. Which would have been fine, but he’s the most inconsistent character, ever. I have absolutely no sense of him as a cohesive individual in the book. Most of the characters have something defining about them, even if it’s caricature-esque, but Leon? Nope. Nada. Zip. Zilch. One moment he’s giving meaningful glances and gifts and issuing Max with a pet-name, the next he’s rutting with Max upside of a car like he’s in one of those books (despite Max later insisting this isn’t one of those books), then he’s in the most unbelievable and ridiculous rage where he says the most appalling things, then he’s crying and apologising, and what’s worse is Max forgives him … frankly, if I met a guy like Leon Farrell I’d be very concerned about his mental wellbeing and steer well clear of being caught alone with him in an enclosed space.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

These things aside, Just One Damned Thing After Another reads like it was a blast to write. And it is definitely a good book to read if you’re in a bit of a funk. It drags you along on a no-stops ride as the St Mary’s historians go from one disaster to another, quipping and tea-drinking all the way. A lot of people die, just to prove how dangerous history can be. There are dinosaurs. There’s a conspiracy that promises to become a big deal in the books to follow. There may or may not be a couple of supernatural beings watching events for reasons known only to themselves for now. Did I mention that there are dinosaurs? I may not want to carry on with the series, but there was enough here for me to enjoy that I’m left with an overall good impression. And there are enough questions left unanswered at the end to tempt me onward … you know, if I run out of things to read.

 

(Finally, this is the first book I’ve read for this year’s Book Bingo card).

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