Well, after reading the absolutely excellent first and second novels in Jodi Taylor’s “The Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series, I was eager to read the third one. I am, of course, talking about Taylor’s 2013 novel “A Second Chance”. However, due to both second-hand prices for this series and the fact that I want to savour this series (rather than binge-reading it all in the space of a month or so), it’ll be at least a few weeks until I review any more “St. Mary’s” novels.
Anyway, although “A Second Chance” is the third book in the series, it can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (since it contains recaps etc..). However, I would strongly recommend reading the previous two books before this one. Seriously, you’ll get a lot more out of this book if you read the other two first. But, I probably shouldn’t say any more before I give the obligatory spoiler warning.
So, let’s take a look at “A Second Chance”. As mentioned earlier, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with time-travelling historian Dr. Madeleine Maxwell (or Max for short), witnessing the fall of Troy to the Grecian army. Needless to say, the fall of Troy is considerably grimmer, scarier and more horrific than the short descriptions usually found in history books.
Then the story flashes back several months earlier. Max has just returned to St. Mary’s (a time-travelling historical research institute) after visiting the local university – only to discover that most of her team have turned blue for some reason. Needless to say, the institute’s director, Dr. Baristow, isn’t exactly happy about this turn of events.
And, since Max is the only non-blue historian in the department, she is tasked with taking Dr.Baristow’s friend, Professor Penrose, back in time to witness Isaac Newton leaving his rooms at Cambridge University. It’s supposed to be a quick sightseeing trip. A favour to a friend. Of course, being St. Mary’s, it isn’t long before something goes wrong…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s the best “St. Mary’s” novel I’ve read yet 🙂 The whole story is brilliantly streamlined and there is an absolutely brilliant balance between thrilling time-travel action, hilarious comedy, shocking moments and powerful emotional drama. In short, as great as the first two books are, this one is where the series really hits it’s stride.
It a story that will have you turning the pages to see what happens next, it is a story that will make you laugh out loud, it is a story that will fill you with awe and it is a story that will probably make you cry several times (with both sorrow and joy). Seriously, this is the best book in the series so far 🙂
First of all, the structure of this book is brilliant – from the cold open mini-cliffhanger, to the fact that the story manages to fit so many time jumps into a relatively short number of pages, this is the most focused, streamlined “St. Mary’s” novel that I’ve read yet 🙂
Although there are obviously a few slower moments to provide contrast, the story’s structure and pacing felt a lot more consistent and confident in this novel than in previous ones. Still, this novel does end on a little bit of a cliffhanger – although there’s enough dramatic resolution before this for it not to be too annoying.
In terms of the story’s comedy elements, they are as brilliantly funny as ever. Although there is slightly more of a focus on serious drama in this story, there are still plenty of comedic moments. Whether it is blue historians, hallucinogenic honey or CBBC (Concussion By Bloody Cheese!), this story’s humour is as hilariously eccentric as ever. But, like in previous reviews, I should probably point out to my international readers that the humour in this series is very British.
The story’s sci-fi/ time travel elements are utterly brilliant too. Not only are there quite a few interesting time jumps, but there’s also lots of other cool stuff like what happens if a pod goes back to the year zero and lots of intriguingly clever, a more realistic explanation for the famous “Trojan Horse” and dramatic stuff about timelines too. Needless to say, there’s a good mixture of thrilling moments, funny moments, awe-inspiring moments and dramatic moments.
Finally, the story’s drama elements are incredibly powerful too. This story focuses on Max and Leon’s relationship a lot … and I really don’t want to spoil any of this. But, this is one of those novels where – if you’ve got to know the characters (from reading the previous two books) – then there are quite a few moments that will probably make you cry for one reason or another.
As with the previous two novels, the writing in this novel is as excellent as ever 🙂 Max’s first-person narration is as distinctive, informal/irreverent, comedic, serious and “matter of fact” as always. Seriously, I cannot praise the narration in this series highly enough. It is the kind of personality-filled narration that makes the comedic moments even funnier, the thrilling moments even more gripping and the dramatic moments more realistic.
In terms of length, this novel is really great. At 248 pages, the story is lean, efficient and focused 🙂 I’ve said this many times before but, in an age where novels often tend to be giant tomes (and the next novel I’ll be reading will probably be one of these tomes), it is always refreshing to see a short modern novel 🙂
All in all, this is a gripping, funny, dramatic and emotionally-powerful novel 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, the series really hits it’s stride with this novel. It has everything that made the first two novels so great, but it has been streamlined and improved even more. Seriously, this is the best “St. Mary’s” novel that I’ve read so far.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five.