Well, since the weather was still annoyingly hot, I thought that it was time for me to read Jodi Taylor’s 2013 novel “No Time Like The Past”, since I was lucky enough to find an affordable second-hand copy of it online a couple of months ago and had been saving it for an occasion like this.
Plus, although this book is the fifth in a series, it can pretty much be read as a stand-alone novel, thanks to a lot of recaps throughout the story. However, a few scenes will have more emotional impact and/or make slightly more sense if you’ve read the previous books.
So, let’s take a look at “No Time Like The Past”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins about a year after the events of the fourth novel, and the disaster-prone time-travelling historical research institute of St.Mary’s is pretty much back to normal. The story begins when oafish security officer Markham claims to see a person falling past one of the windows on several different occasions, yet a body is never found. So, naturally, Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short) is curious.
After a calamity-filled trip back to a Civil War-era version of St.Mary’s in order to investigate, the mystery is solved. However, there’s a lot more stuff for Max to do.
Not only does she need to organise a peaceful, uneventful and disaster-free (yeah, right…) trip to 1851 for most of the institute’s staff, but there’s also the matter of another treasure-grabbing trip to placate the institute’s sponsors, not to mention that several old enemies have turned up again and… worst of all… Max also has to plan the institute’s annual open day too…..
One of the first things that I will say about this book is that this series just keeps getting better and better. If you’ve never read a “St. Mary’s” book before, then the series is a little bit like a cross between “Doctor Who“, a more grown-up version of “St. Trinian’s“, a military sitcom called “Bluestone 42” and the comedy of Terry Pratchett and/or Douglas Adams.
Plus, not only does this instalment in the series have a more well-structured story with a brilliant balance of comedy, thrilling action and serious drama but it also does a few other interesting things too.
The most interesting of these is probably the opening segment of the story – which is almost a self-contained story in it’s own right. Seriously, the first 50-60 pages of this book could easily be a stand-alone novella and, far from being a distraction, this works perfectly. Not only does it get the story off to a reasonably strong start, but it also serves as a really good introduction to/recap for the series too – with the beginning containing all of the elements that make the series so great.
Seriously, this is one of those books that gets the story density absolutely right. Although there are quite a few sub-plots in this story, they are all linked together and follow on from each other in a logical way – with the emphasis firmly being on just one at a time, which helps to ensure that the story never loses focus. This is the kind of book that feels like watching an entire season of a TV show, whilst still being less than 300 pages long. Now that is good writing!
The novel’s comedy is even better than usual, with a really excellent mixture of eccentric humour, a couple of new running jokes (eg: Markham’s knowledge of classic literature), some well-placed slapstick comedy/farce, some cynicism (eg: Max’s comments about a variety of topics), lots of character-based humour, some brilliant pop culture references (eg: not only does the movie “Tremors” make an appearance, but there’s also a deliberately vague reference to Leon getting a fancy new screwdriver too) and a few other things like that.
The time travel/sci-fi elements are pretty cool too. The novel contains at least three wonderfully suspenseful parts where the characters either have to avoid causing time paradoxes and/or damaging to the timeline. Likewise, the novel also contains a good repertoire of historical settings that include a Civil War-era version of St. Mary’s, the great fire of London, The 1851 Great Exhibition, 15th century Italy and Ancient Greece.
The story’s moments of serious drama work really well most of the time too. Although a couple seem either a little bit over-dramatic or a bit under-dramatic, most of them work really well. However, some of these scenes will have a lot more emotional resonance if you’ve read the previous books in the series. Likewise, Max and Leon’s argument-filled relationship might seem a bit random or bizarre if you don’t know the characters well.
In terms of the writing, the novel’s first-person narration is as good as ever. Max is one of the funniest, most unique and most gleefully irreverent narrators I’ve ever read and this book is no exception. Plus, like in the other books in the series, the narration is informal and “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a decent pace, whilst also being descriptive enough to add atmosphere to the story.
In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. If you’ve never read the series before, then expect lots of hilariously eccentric characters 🙂 Interestingly, although this novel does focus on Max and Leon’s relationship during several parts of the story, there’s a lot more focus on Markham (of all people) in this book than I expected. Plus, a couple of familiar villains also make a return too – and, although they don’t really appear for as long as I would have hoped for, both scenes are pretty dramatic.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. Not only does this novel manage to cram a lot of story into a gloriously efficient 291 pages, but the story’s pacing is a lot better than some earlier instalments in the series too. In other words, whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced story, the story moves along consistently at a fairly decent pace.
All in all, this is another great instalment of a great series. If you want a short, but story-filled, sci-fi novel that also contains lots of comedy, drama, thrills and cups of tea, then this one is certainly worth reading 🙂 Seriously, this is one of those book series that should be adapted to television, but would probably lose a lot if it did (since the narration is one of the major reasons this series is so good). So, if you want something that is like a great TV series, but better, then this book is worth reading.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.