Well, it has been way too long since I last read one of Jodi Taylor’s excellent “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” novels. And, after getting a copy of the tenth novel in the series – “Hope For The Best” (2019) – as a birthday present several days before preparing this review, I was eager to read it 🙂
Although this novel contains a few recaps, it picks up reasonably soon after the ending of “An Argumentation Of Historians” and probably won’t make too much sense if you haven’t read the previous nine novels in the series (starting with “Just One Damned Thing After Another“). So, read those books before you read this one.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Hope For The Best”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins in the time-travelling historical research institute of St. Mary’s sometime during the mid-21st century. Max and Leon are still recovering from the injuries they sustained during the dramatic ending of “An Argumentation Of Historians”. But, it isn’t all doom and gloom because their son Matthew is visiting for the week.
During the visit, Max talks to Captain Ellis of the Time Police and begins to come up with a plan to deal with the dastardly Clive Ronan once and for all. Max is especially confident about this plan, even if it means that she has to join the Time Police in order to accomplish it…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it takes a little while longer than I’d expected to really get started, it is well worth the wait. Yes, there is a lot of deliberate mystery and slightly fewer fast-paced moments than you might expect during the early to mid parts of the novel, but all of this stuff has a wonderfully dramatic payoff that is well worth waiting for 🙂 Not only does this novel make a few innovative changes to the formula, but it is also a bit more of a dramatic, suspenseful and “serious” novel than you might expect too.
And it excels at these things. Whether it is the relatively slow build up, a few brilliantly suspenseful moments or the fact that Max finds herself a “fish out of water” during her employment at the Time Police, this novel sometimes has the darker and grittier emotional tone that was more common in earlier instalments of the series. But, thanks to Taylor’s experience with the series, all of this stuff is handled a lot more confidently and smoothly than it was during the earlier novels 🙂
Still, this isn’t to say that this novel doesn’t have the thrills or comedy that you’d expect from a “St. Mary’s” novel 🙂 Although it tells a slightly more “serious” story, there are still quite a few “laugh out loud” moments and numerous other moments of quirky subtle comedy too. Likewise, in the traditional “St. Mary’s” fashion, pretty much every jump backwards in time usually results in hilarious chaos for one silly reason or another 🙂
As I hinted at earlier, this novel is more of a thriller than usual too. This is handled in a more “traditional” way, with lots of mystery and build-up during the early to mid parts of the novel (with, for example, Max sometimes hinting at a secret plan that she refuses to reveal to the reader). This build up then gives way to some brilliantly unexpected moments of nail-biting suspense, before peaking with the kind of rip-roaringly chaotic and fast-paced adventure through time that you would expect 🙂
Intriguingly, this focus on suspense also allows Taylor to include a few elements from the crime thriller and spy thriller genres too. Not only does this help to shake up the formula a bit, but it is also handled with the kind of familiar eccentricity that you’d expect from a St. Mary’s novel too 🙂 This mixture between novelty and familiarity works really well and helps to keep the story intriguingly unpredictable at times, allowing for at least a couple of interesting plot twists.
Not only that, the fact that the novel involves the Time Police allows us to see more of this mysterious organisation and for the story to include more sci-fi elements than usual too 🙂 These sci-fi elements are handled really well and show off a few intriguing things that were only hinted at during previous novels in the series. Of course, being “St. Mary’s”, these intriguing things mostly fall into the category of “what happens when things go really wrong”. Still, it’s really cool to see more details of the technology and “world” of the series 🙂
In terms of the characters, they are as good as ever 🙂 As you would expect, this novel focuses a lot on Max – and, in classic thriller fashion, she ends up going through hell in this story – this not only allows for a lot of courageous and/or clever moments, but also allows for moments of serious drama that really help to add some extra realism and depth to her character too. Literally the only criticism I have is that, for some bizarre reason, Max’s first name is stated to be “Lucy” in this book (despite it being Madeleine in earlier books). At a guess, this might possibly have something to do with the events of book three. Even so, it was a little confusing and disconcerting.
The other characters are as good as ever too. Although there’s less emphasis on the traditional supporting cast of St. Mary’s members, this allows for a bit more emphasis on the Time Police characters and a few intriguing background characters from previous novels. Likewise, although Ronan is still the main villain in the novel, he remains unseen for a lot of the story – allowing for both the introduction of a couple of new villians and the return of another familiar villain too 🙂 Yes, the villains are very much on the “cartoonishly evil” side of things, but they are given enough nuance and menace to keep them frightening.
As for the writing, it is excellent as usual 🙂 Max’s first-person narration is the kind of fast-paced and informal narration that allows for a lot of immersion, comedic moments, powerful drama and characterisation too 🙂 If you’ve never read a novel in this series before, then the best way to describe the narration is that it combines the irreverent attitude of punk fiction with the eccentricity of an author like Terry Pratchett. It is, as always, an absolute joy to read 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At a hefty 461 pages, this novel is at least four pages shorter than the previous book in the series. Even so, I miss the more concise and focused lengths of some earlier books in the series. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel’s pacing has a lot of focus on build-up and suspense. What this means is that the second half of the book is a lot more compelling and eventful than the first half is (although the first half is still fairly good).
All in all, whilst this isn’t my favourite novel in the series, it is still really good 🙂 Yes, it takes a while to really get started but it is good to see Taylor doing different things with the series and showing off more of the “world” of the series too. Likewise, although the grittier emotional tone of some of the earlier novels in the series makes a bit of a return here, it is handled in a much better way and – as always – is also balanced out with lots of comedy too. If you’re a fan of the series, then this novel might be a little different to what you’d expect, but it is still very recognisably a “St. Mary’s” novel 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.