Well, after reading Jodi Taylor’s excellent “Just One Damned Thing After Another“, I was eager to read the next book in the series. I am, of course, talking about Taylor’s 2013 novel “A Symphony Of Echoes”.
Anyway, although “A Symphony Of Echoes” is a sequel, it can also be read as a stand-alone novel. Yes, you’ll get more out of it if you read “Just One Damned Thing After Another” first, but this novel contains enough recaps etc.. for it to just about stand on it’s own two feet. Even so, I’ll probably be comparing this novel to the previous one quite a lot in this review.
So, let’s take a look at “A Symphony Of Echoes”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
This novel, like the previous one, focuses on a group of time-travelling historians who work for a secret research institute called St. Mary’s. The story begins when one of the senior historians, Kal, decides to retire. In accordance with tradition, when a historian retires, they get to visit whichever part of the past they want to before they leave.
So, along with Dr. Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short), Kal travels back to Victorian London in order to scare the bejeesus out of Jack The Ripper. Of course, as you would expect, things don’t go exactly to plan.
Whilst Max and Kal are recovering from their injuries in St. Mary’s sickbay, Chief Farrell goes missing. After a while, the historians work out that he has been kidnapped and taken to the future. So, it is up to Max to mount a daring rescue….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s very compelling. Not only does it begin with a grippingly streamlined flourish of thrilling drama and chilling horror, but the story also has a rather cleverly-designed plot (which, though it may get confusing at some points, ultimately ends up making sense) and a slightly more well-handled emotional tone than the previous novel too. Plus, of course, it also resolves the small cliffhanger at the end of the first novel too 🙂
“A Symphony Of Echoes” also makes full use of the series’ time-travel premise in all sorts of clever ways too. Not only is there a sub-plot about time paradoxes, but there are also some rather interesting scenes that are set in the future too. Plus, of course, there are some interesting scenes about how the existence of time travel has had an impact on the lives of the main characters too. The novel’s title isn’t there to sound pretentious – it is a reference to the knock-on effects that events can have on future events. And it’s really cool to see the series exploring all of this stuff 🙂
But, yes, the plot of this novel can get a little bit confusing at times. However, if you’re willing to pay attention and wait, then almost everything in the story has some kind of logical explanation.
Yes, a couple of the plot twists do seem a little bit contrived/cheap (eg: Max coming up with a plan, but not mentioning the details to the reader until later etc..) but, ultimately, pretty much everything makes sense by the end of the book. The only exception to this is that some elements of the Jack The Ripper-based scenes are deliberately left chillingly mysterious, in order to increase the horror of these scenes.
As I hinted earlier, this novel is a bit more of a thriller than “Just One Damned Thing After Another” was. There are a lot more brilliant set-pieces, intriguing mysteries, clever plans and scenes of fast-paced drama. Yes, these are contrasted with slower moments and moments of character-based drama, but the novel is – in some parts at least- a faster-paced, more streamlined and more thrilling story than I’d expected.
Likewise, the emotional tone of this novel feels much more well-handled too – with the segues from serious moments to comedic moments (and vice versa) feeling more natural and less jarring than in the previous novel. A lot of this is helped by the fact that this novel starts off in a fairly “serious” way, with lots of perilous drama and even a few moments of horror too. So, when the story’s emotional tone lightens, it comes as a relief to the reader. It also prepares the reader for the fact that the story will have serious moments too.
Still, when this novel is comedic, it is hilarious. Not only are there a few amusing references (eg: to “The Big Bang Theory” etc..), but Max’s first-person narration and the novel’s dialogue is as brilliantly sarcastic, “matter of fact” and well-written as ever too 🙂 Plus, this story is also filled with all of the hilariously eccentric details that you would expect – such as the noise that a dodo makes (“grockle”, if anyone is curious).
Seriously, I cannot praise the humour in both this novel and the previous one highly enough 🙂 But, for my international readers, I should probably point out that a lot of the humour in this series is very British, so I don’t know how well it will translate to audiences outside the UK.
In terms of the characters, they’re all reasonably interesting, well-written and/or stylised too. If you’ve read the previous novel, then you’ll enjoy seeing lots of familiar faces again (as well as a few unfamiliar ones too). Yes, some things remain the same (eg: Max and Leon’s tumultuous, argument-filled relationship) but there’s also a bit of character development in this story too. The most noticeable example of this is Max finding herself with more responsibilities and authority than she had in the previous novel. Even so, this novel still manages to keep a fair amount of the “punk” attitude that made the previous novel so much fun to read.
But, if you haven’t read the previous novel, then you might find the characterisation to be a little bit “light”. It’s still there, but you’ll get a lot more out of the novel’s moments of emotional drama if you read “Just One Damned Thing After Another” first. Yes, some of the moments of interpersonal drama in the story do border on the melodramatic at times – but this is part of the style of the series.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good too. Although the novel contains a mixture of fast-paced and slow-paced scenes, and a slightly more complicated plot, it remains reasonably compelling throughout. Likewise, at just 233 pages (in the edition I read), this novel is that wonderfully rare thing – an efficiently short modern novel 🙂
However, it’s possible that I read an earlier edition with slightly smaller print. Plus, although I don’t usually critique this stuff, the copy I read does bear the hallmarks of an early version/small press edition (eg: JPEG compression/ image resizing artefacts in the cover art, a couple of barely noticeable typos etc..). Personally, I felt that this added to the eccentric charm of the story and made me feel like I was discovering something intriguingly new and obscure. However, fussy perfectionists probably won’t like it.
All in all, this is an extremely enjoyable novel 🙂 It tells a slightly complicated story about time travel which is alternately thrilling, hilarious, scary and poignant. In other words, it’s a good sequel to “Just One Damned Thing After Another” – even if, although I liked many individual moments and scenes from this story better, I slightly preferred the previous novel as a whole (probably because it introduced me to this awesome series).
If I had to give “A Symphony Of Echoes” a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.