Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just One Damned Thing After Another (Jodi Taylor)

Just One Damned Thing After Another
(The Chronicles of St. Mary's, Book 1)
Jodi Taylor
Accent Press
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Short spitfire historian Madeline Maxwell lands the job of a lifetime at St. Mary's, an ostensibly ordinary historical research team performing ostensibly ordinary historical research... only St. Mary's has a secret edge over the competition. They use time travel to observe events and answer questions about the past - and, of course, get themselves into trouble, because History can be a bit of a bugger when a historian pokes his or her nose into the wrong corner. As Maxwell settles into her new life among the eccentric staff, she finds herself tangled up in something bigger. Because St. Mary's isn't the only one traveling through time - only the other guys are turning history into a cash cow, and anyone who stands between them and profit will end up "history" themselves.

REVIEW: This was supposed to be a fun, rollicking time travel story, a crazy seat-of-the-pants adventure. Unfortunately, I found it rarely rose above the vaguely-amusing humor line. The main problem is the narrator, Madeline Maxwell. She thinks she's spunky and clever and eternally amusing, but then she also thinks she's smart - only she's impossibly easy to distract, even from her own story, wandering off on distracting tangents that aren't nearly as funny as she seems to think. Because she's dancing and capering and winking in my face most of the time, often with hefty smatterings of English slang and crudity, it becomes very hard to notice the story or peripheral characters around her. What I did see leaned heavily on genre expectations, consistently reaching for the low-hanging-fruit options and ideas. For instance, there's the obligatory (and illogical, given that diseases are already an issue with time travel in human times, let alone beyond recorded history, but I digress) trip to the Cretaceous. Every single animal they see is one of the standards, readily identified from a fossil record that paints a spotty, at best, picture of life in that era. No insects, no mammals, no unexpected wonders that skipped fossilization: nothing but the "money shot" dinos like Tyrannosaurus Rex and giant sauropods and hadrosaurs and such. The descriptions were nice, but what a missed opportunity.
Much of the book felt like that, actually: missed opportunities for character depth (Maxwell's been traumatized by a past including sexual abuse - the ultimate low-hanging-fruit for creating a woman with a "troubled" past), missed opportunities for historical secrets, missed opportunities for playing with the time travel gimmick and technology... The author was too in love with Maxwell's voice and general silliness to even try reaching deeper, despite some peripheral hints that her England is either an alternate reality or a not-so-distant future, possibly both. Pretty much everyone is either a stereotype or just a random name that gets mentioned now and again, the two qualities not being mutually exclusive: lots of character names are chucked at the reader, only rarely appearing often enough or with enough of a hook for the reader to remember, let alone care about, them. The baddies are obvious (because they're presented as questionable or outright bad, but Maxwell then gets distracted and I, as the reader, was apparently supposed to forget all that and be shocked when said characters turned out to be just what they appeared.)
As for the story... things happen, I grant that, and as I mentioned some of the descriptions could be nice, but I couldn't care about much of it because I got so very tired of Maxwell mugging for the narrative camera. Then the ending drops some random and downright pointless, out-of-the-blue twists that are supposed to induce me to follow along in Book 2. The hook failed to find purchase, so this reader swims away, disappointed that the shiny lure didn't have a juicier treat attached.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Sky Coyote (Kage Baker) - My Review
Off to Be the Wizard (Scott Meyer) - My Review
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure- Amazon DVD Link

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