Review: “Hope For The Best” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

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.

This is the 2019 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “Hope For The Best” that I read.

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.

Review: “An Argumentation Of Historians” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel I’d meant to read a couple of months earlier. I am, of course talking about the copy of Jodi Taylor’s 2018 novel “An Argumentation Of Historians” that I got for my birthday in that year.

This novel is the ninth one in Taylor’s amazing “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series (If you’ve never read this series before, imagine a mixture of “Doctor Who”, “St. Trinians”, a punk comic and a late-night BBC3 sitcom) and, at the time of preparing this review, it was the most recent novel in the series I owned (apart from the short story collection “The Long And The Short Of It”, which I haven’t read yet, or the tenth novel – which wasn’t available when I prepared this review in March 2019).

And this is probably one of the reasons why it has taken me so long to review this book, I really didn’t want to run out of “St. Mary’s” books (yes, they’re that good). Still, I was in the mood for a “St. Mary’s” novel, so I decided to finally take a look at it.

As I mentioned earlier, this novel is the ninth novel in a series. Although this novel contains some recaps and some self-contained sub-plots, you really need to have read the previous eight books in order to really understand both the story and the characters.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “An Argumentation Of Historians”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2018 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “An Argumentation Of Historians” that I read.

After everyone in the time-travelling historical research institute of St. Mary’s has recovered from the events of the previous novel, Chief Operations Officer Madeleine “Max” Maxwell joins in with a jump to Greenwich in 1536 to study what really happened during Henry VIII’s famous jousting accident. Of course, things don’t go quite to plan. However, to everyone’s surprise, it is the Time Police who mess everything up this time.

After everything has been sorted out, Captain Ellis tells Max that their moustache-twirlingly evil arch-nemesis Clive Ronan is still out there and that he’d like both organisations to come up with a plan to catch him. So, Max comes up with a clever scheme involving some valuable jewelery and a time-jump to Persepolis shortly after it was taken by Alexander The Great. What could possibly go wrong?

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really good, but different, entry in the series. Although it certainly contains all of the comedy and adventure that you’d expect from a “St. Mary’s” novel, it is more of a serious drama, romance and/or thriller novel than I’d expected. It’s a really good novel but, if you’re used to the series, then it both will and won’t catch you by surprise.

Although the novel contains a few of the short, fun, self-contained comedy-adventure time jumps that you’d expect, a surprisingly large portion of the novel involves Max being stranded in the middle ages (with only four years to escape before a time paradox happens). This segment is simultaneously the best and worst part of the novel.

On the one hand, it’s a really atmospheric, detailed, realistic and suspense-filled segment that allows for a lot of character-based drama and has the kind of grim, bleak and harsh tone that is vaguely reminiscent of something like “Game Of Thrones” (with maybe a tiny hint of Joe Haldeman’s “The Accidental Time Machine” too) 🙂

On the other hand, it is fairly long and is also slower-paced than both the beginning and ending of the novel. This also means that the series’ hilariously eccentric comedy elements don’t feel quite as prominent as they usually do. Likewise, although Max is a really interesting character, part of the fun of reading the series is being in St. Mary’s, spending time in this wonderfully eccentric, unique and chaotic place that is filled with bizarre people. So, separating Max from St. Mary’s changes the tone of the story quite a bit. Yes, this was probably the whole point of this segment but, still, it made me feel like I was missing out on something.

Still, in addition to the constant suspense of the medieval-based segment, the novel’s thriller elements are fairly good. Not only are there a few of the usual chaotic, fast-paced jaunts to the past (but fewer than usual) and other hilariously gripping scenes of mayhem, but there’s also the usual duel of wits between Max and Ronan too. Whilst most of this is handled fairly well, some of the later plot twists do seem a little rushed. Even so, they still add a lot of extra drama to the ending of the novel and my main complaint here is that more pages should have been dedicated to them.

However, after reading nine “St. Mary’s” novels, I’m starting to get the sense that Max and/or the Time Police will never catch Ronan. That, like the cartoon about the roadrunner and the coyote, the whole point is the chase. That, if Ronan was ever caught or killed, the whole series would come crashing to a directionless halt. And, yes, these cat-and-mouse scenes are really dramatic – but this element of the series means that they are at least mildly predictable by now.

In terms of the characters and the writing, this novel is excellent as ever 🙂 Not only is Max’s first-person narration as irreverent, eccentric, amusing, “matter of fact” and/or personality-filled as usual, but this novel certainly isn’t short on character-based drama. Seriously, it’s amazing how this series can handle such a large cast of characters whilst still making them not only seem distinctive, but also giving many of them their own sub-plots and story arcs too.

As for length and pacing this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At a fairly hefty 465 pages in length, novels in this series really do seem to be getting progressively longer. Normally, this would be a good thing – but the story’s pacing is a bit different than usual. One of the cool things about a typical “St. Mary’s” novel is that it often feels like a much larger novel (or, more accurately, a cleverly-disguised short story collection) has been distilled/compressed into a sensible-size novel. And, if this novel’s 465 pages were all like this, then it would have been really awesome.

However, whilst both the beginning and ending of this novel are the kind of fast-paced, detailed, plot-dense story that you’d expect, everything slows down a bit for the gloomier and more morose medieval segment that I mentioned earlier. Yes, this change in pacing helps to add realism, drama and a bleak atmosphere, but it does make the novel feel a bit longer than it should be and it also means that, as mentioned earlier, the really gripping ending feels a little bit rushed by comparison. Seriously, if the medieval segment had been 30-50 pages shorter and the ending 30-50 pages longer, then the pacing would have been better.

All in all, whilst this isn’t my favourite novel in the series, it is still a really good novel. Yes, it does some things differently (which is both a good and bad thing) and the length/pacing aren’t perfect, but this is still a really compelling sci-fi/thriller/drama novel filled with interesting characters, fascinating places, hilarious comedy, serious moments and atmosphere.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get four and a half.

Review: “And The Rest Is History” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to read this book a couple of weeks ago, I thought that I’d take a look at the eighth novel in Jodi Taylor’s amazing “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series today. If you’ve never heard of this series before, imagine a mixture of “Doctor Who”, a late-night BBC3 sitcom, Terry Pratchett, “St. Trinians” and a punk comic.

Anyway, this novel – “And The Rest Is History” (2016) – was part of a birthday present that I got a couple of months earlier and am carefully rationing, since there are only a couple of other “St. Mary’s” books left to go.

However, although this novel does contain some recaps, you need to read the previous seven novels before reading this one. A lot of the novel’s drama will only really have the emotional impact that it deserves if you’re already familiar with the characters and backstory. Likewise, this story picks up where the previous book left off. So, read the previous seven books before this one. You won’t regret it.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “And The Rest Is History”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “And The Rest Is History” that I read.

The novel begins shortly after the events of “Lies, Damned Lies, And History”. At the time-travelling historical research institute of St. Mary’s, Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or Max for short) is still getting to grips with the fact that she now has a baby son called Matthew. Surprisingly, there have been no major disasters either.

However, during a jog around the grounds of St. Mary’s, Max runs into her old enemy Clive Ronan. To her surprise, he hasn’t travelled to St. Mary’s to kill her. In fact, he has grown tired of life as a fugitive and wants to work out some kind of peace agreement with St. Mary’s. As such, he gives Max a set of temporal co-ordinates and requests a more formal meeting.

After some discussion, Max agrees to go – with her husband Leon staying behind to look after Matthew. And, after jumping to a remote part of the Ancient Egyptian desert, the meeting starts out well. Even a freak sandstorm that engulfed an entire army doesn’t get in the way and, if anything, engenders a grudging respect between Max and Ronan as they help each other to survive it.

Then, completely out of the blue, the Time Police show up. Needless to say, Ronan thinks that Max has betrayed him. Fleeing the desert, he swears cruel vengeance against both Max and everyone that she loves…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really solid “St. Mary’s” novel 🙂 There’s a really good mixture of comedy, action/adventure, time travel, historical horror, sci-fi and sombre emotional drama. Plus, if you’re a fan of the mythos of the series, then this novel has all of the classics 🙂 Ronan, the Time Police etc… You name it, it’s there 🙂 Seriously, I don’t know what to say about this novel that I haven’t said before. If you’re a fan of “St. Mary’s”, then you’ll love it 🙂

With every novel in the series, everything gets a little bit more refined and this one is no exception. This is a novel that will both make you laugh out loud and feel numb with shock (especially when you see a new twist on a familiar catchphrase). This is a novel that can be hilariously funny sometimes and grimly bleak sometimes and, somehow, both of these things fit together absolutely perfectly.

It is also a novel that is as much about what isn’t shown as what is, with the most dramatic sub-plot (eg: Leon chasing Ronan through time and space) taking place almost entirely “off screen” and, yet, it still works perfectly.

It is a novel that is able to make you feel nervous and uneasy when nothing goes wrong for the characters. Seriously, it’s a testament to how well-written this series is and how much Taylor knows her fanbase that the absence of chaos and catastrophe can be an extremely notable and suspenseful part of one of these novels.

Seriously, I absolutely loved how this novel was structured 🙂 Although I don’t want to spoil too much, there are some stunningly dramatic twists and turns here and, even if you can predict how some of them might turn out, they remain very dramatic nonetheless 🙂

Seriously, this novel gets the balance between thrilling adventure, dramatic suspense, fascinating sci-fi, grisly history, hilarious comedy (including a sneaky hat-tip to Terry Pratchett too. You’ll know it when you see it) and poignant, bleak emotional drama absolutely right. This is a novel that is like an excellent season of a TV show, but three times better 🙂

In terms of the characters, they are the heart of this story and they are as brilliant as ever. Not only is Max’s relationship with Leon and the fact that she now has a son a huge part of the story, but there is a lot of drama involving the other characters too. In the traditional fashion, this is a novel where the characters feel like old friends and you’ll really care about what happens to them.

In terms of the writing, it is also as brilliant as ever. Like with the other novels in the series, this one is narrated by Max and the incredibly readable, informal “matter of fact” punk narration allows for thrillingly fast-paced scenes, bleak moments of tragic drama and some absolutely brilliant comedy too 🙂 Seriously, like all of the other books in the series, this one has a lot of personality 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a little different. At a whopping 426 pages, it is longer than previous novels in the series. In fact, the increased length was why it took me a couple of weeks to work up the enthusiasm to read it. Even so, the novel is just as compelling and well-paced as you would expect 🙂 There’s a well-handled mixture of suspense, thrills, emotional drama, time travel and hilariously random comedy too.

All in all, if you’re a fan of this series, then you’ll absolutely love this novel 🙂 This is a novel for “St. Mary’s” fans and it absolutely excels 🙂 If you’ve never read a “St. Mary’s” novel before, then start with the first one and work your way towards this one. Seriously, it is even better if you’ve read the other books first 🙂

If I had to go through the formality of giving this novel a rating out of five, it would get the usual five.

Review: “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Ever since I got several of Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St.Mary’s” novels for my birthday several weeks earlier, I’ve been carefully rationing them out.

So, since a little over a month has passed since I read the sixth novel in the series, I thought that I’d read the seventh – “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” (2016).

Although this novel is the seventh novel in a series, it contains a fair number of recaps near the beginning. However, you will get a lot more out of this novel if you’ve read the previous six books first.

So, let’s take a look at “Lies, Damned Lies, And History”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” that I read.

The story begins in the mid 21st century at the time-travelling historical research institute of St. Mary’s. Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short) has made a huge mistake and is in a hell of a lot of trouble. Not only that, so is St.Mary’s too.

The story then flashes back to sometime earlier. Since Max is pregnant, she’s been restricted to less hazardous time jumps (if such things even exist). And, after seeing the coronation of King George IV, she makes another time jump to Wales to examine a hill fort. Of course, this being St.Mary’s, it isn’t long before Max’s team find themselves hiding in the fort after a Saxon army begins to advance towards it.

Luckily, King Arthur shows up to save the day. Even so, things are fairly close. After Arthur wins, he presents the fort with a ceremonial sword – symbolising his protection- that is placed in a nearby cave. Realising that this could be a major archaeological discovery, Max and her team return to St. Mary’s and report the sword to the University Of Thirsk, who dig it up and get all of the glory.

However, one of the team members (Roberts) who has family near the cave starts telling Max about a sudden series of terrible events that have happened in the area after the sword was removed. Needless to say, it isn’t long before Max has secretly assembled a team and begun planning a sword heist….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the series is very much back on form 🙂 It never really left it, but this is another way of saying that book seven is better than book six. This is one of those awesome novels that feels like a giant, intricately-plotted epic storyline crammed into a small book 🙂

And, did I mention the heist? In addition to including elements from the sci-fi, comedy, drama and horror genres, this novel also includes the heist genre too 🙂 There is something absolutely hilarious about stories featuring “good” characters pulling off elaborate heists – and Max is in good company here, given that none other than Sherlock Holmes established this particular sub-genre of heist fiction (yes, the Holmes story was inspired by E.W. Hornung’s “Raffles” stories, but Raffles wasn’t exactly a “good” character).

Although I sort of mentioned this in yesterday’s article, one of the great things about this book is the sheer sense of progression. This is a novel that expertly jumps between genres and sub-plots so well and so often that it feels like a considerably deeper and larger story than you might expect 🙂

Plus, even though this novel tells a fairly self-contained story, it also manages to squeeze in a few elements of the series’s over-arching storyline in a way that felt slightly lacking in the sixth book.

Even though the novel’s time travel elements take a little bit of a back seat in this novel (there are lots of jumps, and even a battle, but most of them just involve fields and castles), the main focus of this story is on the drama taking place in St.Mary’s and, to my delight, the novel not only pulls this off well but also manages to make it really compelling. Whether it is Max’s fall from grace and her inevitable redemption or the battle of wits between Max and an obnoxious coffee-drinker called Halcombe who briefly takes over St. Mary’s, this novel is wonderfully dramatic, suspenseful and gripping.

Plus, the comedy in this novel is as great as usual too. Seriously, from a pet ringworm called Oscar to the mathematical formulae needed for cleaning products, this novel absolutely excels itself as a comedy novel. Although most of the story’s irreverent humour is as low-key and understated as usual, there were slightly more “laugh out loud” moments in this novel than I’d initially expected 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. Not only does Max have to deal with being pregnant, but she also has to find a way to make up for all of the trouble she has got St. Mary’s into during the earlier parts of the novel too.

The other characters are as well-written as usual, with the historical figures (eg: mostly various kings) also being portrayed in the series’ usual idiosyncratic and/or cynical way. Not only that, Halcombe is the kind of wonderfully cartoonish villian who you would absolutely love to see get his comeuppance too 🙂 Plus, talking of villains, long-running villain Clive Ronan makes a brief appearance in this novel and is actually a lot creepier and more evil than you’d expect too.

In terms of the writing, this is a St.Mary’s novel. So, it is excellent as ever 🙂 If you’ve never read a novel in this series, then the series’ gloriously informal and frequently irreverent first-person narration is a thing of beauty. I’ve probably described this series as punk literature before, but it’s a reasonably good description. This is a novel that has a lot of personality 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is stellar. The story’s 315 page length may initially feel slightly too long but, considering the amount of stuff that happens, it’s a miracle this novel is only 315 pages long. Needless to say, the pacing is really good too. There’s a brilliant mixture of slower and faster-paced scenes, not to mention that the clever segues between different genres (eg: suspense, time travel, drama, comedy, thriller, heist etc..) help to keep the story really compelling too 🙂

All in all, this is a really excellent instalment in the “St. Mary’s” series. If you like drama, comedy, sci-fi, history and thrills, then this novel is well worth reading 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Woo hoo! Thanks to a wonderful birthday present from a family member a few days before I prepared this review, I am now the proud owner of several more novels in Jodi Taylor’s awesome “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series 🙂

Although I’ll probably carefully ration them out over the next few months, I thought that I’d take a look at the sixth novel in the series, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” (2015), today. You can find my reviews of the previous five novels here, here, here, here and here.

Although this novel is the sixth novel in a series, it can pretty much almost be read as a stand-alone book, since the premise basically serves as another introduction to the series (not to mention that there are a few recaps too). Even so, you’ll get more out of this book if you read the previous five books first.

So, let’s take a look at “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” that I read.

The novel begins in a secret time-travelling historical research institute called St.Mary’s. Accident-prone senior historian Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short) is having a meeting with the institute’s head, Dr.Baristow, who tells her that she’s been assigned five new recruits that she will have to train into historians.

The recruits are a rather motley crew that consist of a mohawk-wearing punk, a member of the upper classes, a mini-Max, a random guy and *gasp* a coffee-drinker (practically heresy in St.Mary’s, where tea is king).

Remembering her own training, Max decides to do things a bit differently. Instead of teaching the recruits lots of theory first, she wants to take them on short, low-risk jumps into the past throughout the course. Of course, this being St.Mary’s, there’s really no such thing as “low-risk”….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really good novel in a great series 🙂 There’s the usual unique mixture of comedy, thrills and drama – not to mention that the idea of turning Max into a training officer is a brilliant reversal of the first novel in the series (where Max is a trainee). Like a new episode of a favourite TV show, this is a novel that manages to be both reassuringly familiar and intriguingly new at the same time.

If you’ve never read this series before, imagine a mixture of “Doctor Who”, a late-night BBC3 sitcom, “St. Trinians” and Terry Pratchett, but with a little bit of a punk sensibility and a gloriously eccentric sense of humour. Although I may make a few small criticisms in this review, the series as a whole is one of the best that I’ve read and this novel isn’t too out of place in it. In other words, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” is a really good novel in a series of great novels.

In terms of the time travel scenes, they are as inventively weird as ever – including things like an adorable baby mammoth, a character nearly drowning in the desert and a hilariously bizarre encounter with the ancient historian Herodotus.

These hilariously chaotic scenes of farce and slapstick comedy are also contrasted with some more serious and grim historical moments, such as the brutal deaths of Joan Of Arc and Richard III. Although the first novel in the series struggled to get this contrast right, this novel has a fairly good mixture of comedy and serious drama, with neither overwhelming the story too much.

In addition to this, this novel actually implies when the main events of the series take place. Although many of the “St. Mary’s” novels have slightly weird background details that hint that the stories take place in the near future, one of the later parts of this story (involving the “100 year rule”) pretty much points out that the main “St. Mary’s” storyline takes place in the 2040s-60s. I’m kind of surprised that it has taken the series this long to point it out, since I vaguely remember being mildly confused by this element during first couple of books.

Like in some previous novels, this novel is pretty much a short story collection in disguise – with a series of sub-plots taking place in different times and places, in addition to a few brilliantly comedic stand-alone scenes (such as Max finally taking her outdoor survival training). On the whole, this works really well and allows for a really good mixture of comedy and drama, in addition to adding a lot of variety to the story too 🙂

However, if there is one criticism to be made of this novel, it’s that some of the story arc elements seemed a little bit light. Although there are hints at nefarious plots in the background, a brief mention of Clive Ronan, a dramatic plot twist or two and even a brief appearance by the Time Police, the dramatic background plots of earlier novels like “A Trail Through Time” don’t really turn up here. Yes, the novel is still fairly dramatic, but it really doesn’t have quite the same sense of being part of an epic story arc. Even so, it’s still really compelling.

A lot of this is due to the fact that Max is responsible for training a new group of historians, which allows the story to include a bit of extra characterisation, some new types of suspense, some extra drama and some additional comedy (such as when one of them decides to *gasp* drink coffee instead of tea). This also serves as another introduction to the the series for people who are new to it too. As I mentioned earlier, there’s enough familiar stuff to make this novel feel wonderfully relaxing but enough new stuff to keep the story interesting.

In terms of the characters, they’re as hilariously eccentric as ever – especially with the new additions. Likewise, Max’s first-person narration is as wonderfully informal, irreverent and personality-filled as ever. Both the characters and the narration are a major source of both comedy and drama in this series, and this novel certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly decent. At 388 pages, it’s a bit longer than I had expected, but this didn’t matter too much because I really enjoyed the story. Likewise, in contrast to the first couple of novels in the series, the pacing is a lot more consistent and confident here – with the story containing a really good mixture of moderately-paced and fast-paced scenes.

All in all, this is a really good novel in a great series. If you’re new to the series, then you’ll probably enjoy this novel and, if you’re already a fan, then this is a fairly solid “episode” of the series. Yes, it doesn’t have quite the same brevity and high-stakes drama as some of the earlier novels, but it is as funny, dramatic and compelling as you would expect 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “No Time Like The Past” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

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.

This is the fifth book in Taylor’s excellent “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series and you can find my reviews of the previous four “St. Mary’s” books here, here, here and here.

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.

This is the 2015 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “No Time Like The Past” that I read.

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.

Review: ” A Trail Through Time” By Jodi Taylor

Well, after reading the first three novels in Jodi Taylor’s amazing “The Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series (you can see my reviews of them here, here and here), I reluctantly stopped reading the series for a while since second-hand copies of them were getting progressively more expensive the further I went through the series.

But, when I noticed that the fourth and fifth books weren’t quite as expensive as I’d thought, I decided to splash out on them. And, although I’ll probably save the fifth book for a later date, I thought that I’d take a look at Taylor’s 2014 novel “A Trail Through Time” today 🙂

Although this is the fourth novel in a series, it contains quite a few recaps. So, it can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel. However, the story will have much more comedic, dramatic and emotional impact if you’ve read the other three books first.

So, let’s take a look at “A Trail Through Time”. Needless to say, this review will contain a metric ton of SPOILERS (including for the previous three novels).

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “A Trail Through Time” that I read.

The novel begins with a recap of the ending of the previous novel. Time-travelling historian Madeleine “Max” Maxwell has just found herself in a parallel universe with a version of her lover, Leon. In Max’s universe, Leon died. In Leon’s universe, Max died. Needless to say, both are pretty amazed to see each other again.

However, before Max and Leon can spend too long in each other’s company, they get a phone call warning them that someone is coming. Less than a minute later, mysterious armed men begin to attack Leon’s house.

Luckily, this version of Leon has a time travel pod hidden in the garden. So, they jump back in time to a deserted tropical island. Leon explains that the armed men are the time police! The name pretty much says it all really. They’re after Max. And it isn’t long before they show up on the island.

After dodging them again, Max and Leon jump back to 17th century London. There is a frost fair on the river Thames, and it is bloody freezing! Needless to say, it isn’t long before the time police show up again. But, how long can our favourite fugitives keep ahead of them?….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that it’s even more compelling than I expected. I binge-read most of it in a single day 🙂 Everything great about the first three novels in the series has been focused, refined and reinvented and it is brilliant. It is epic. Seriously, I cannot praise this novel highly enough! It’s like “Doctor Who” meets “Sliders” meets “Bluestone 42” meets “Stargate SG-1” meets… well… something even more awesome.

Not only is the early part of the novel like a brilliantly comedic version of “Doctor Who” (seriously, it reminded me a bit of this episode), but the time police are an absolutely brilliant addition to the story too. They’re exactly the right combination of chillingly menacing and hilariously silly (I mean, time police!). Likewise, turning Max and Leon into fugitives is a brilliant way to keep the story focused whilst also adding lots of thrilling suspense, chase scenes and character-based drama. Genius!

Likewise, the slightly slower middle parts of the story add more atmosphere, characterisation and depth (including hinting at a lot of dramatic “off screen” politics, conflicts etc..) whilst also building up to a spectacularly dramatic, powerful and thrilling final act 🙂 And, yes, the later parts of the story are absolutely epic. Imagine the series finale of a great TV show and you might come close. Although the final battle is relatively small in scale, this only makes it more powerful and dramatic.

The parallel universe premise of the novel is utterly amazing too 🙂 Not only does this allow the story to return to it’s roots, but it also allows for lots of other interesting changes and subtle differences that really help to keep the reader on their toes. It also adds a lot of drama and suspense to the novel too, since Max finds herself abandoned in another, strange world with a very slightly different history.

Plus, as you’d expect from a “St.Mary’s” novel, there are also quite a few interesting time travel scenes too. Although these aren’t the main focus of the story, there are a reasonable number of them and they include random and eccentric things such as a visit to ancient Egypt to see Pharaoh Akhenatan, the eruption in Pompeii, a frost fair on the River Thames, a character catching bubonic plague in the middle ages etc…

As for the novel’s characters, they’re as eccentric and well-written as ever. In addition to the parallel universe storyline allowing for the return of a familiar villain (Barclay) and for some interesting character changes, the novel’s early focus on Max and Leon fleeing the time police also allows for a lot of characterisation too. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, the time police are brilliant antagonists too – being just the right mixture of menacing and hilariously silly.

In terms of the writing, it’s also as good as ever too. If you’ve read previous novels in the series, you’ll know that Max’s first-person narration is a wonderfully unique combination of irreverent humour, serious storytelling and more “matter of fact” narration. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I find the narration in this series to be an absolute joy to read 🙂

In terms of the length and pacing, it’s reasonably good. Although the novel is 379 pages long, it never really feels too long. Likewise, not only is this novel more of a fast-paced thriller, but even the novel’s slower-paced scenes still feel gripping thanks to the dramatic backstory. Likewise, this novel has a really good structure and story arc too. There’s also a really good balance between faster and slower segments of the novel, and the story feels a lot more confident and focused than some earlier novels in the series did.

All in all, this is an absolutely awesome sci-fi/comedy/thriller/drama novel 🙂 Everything that makes this series so brilliant has been refined, focused and reinvented excellently in this novel. If you want a novel that is a bit like a more eccentric, comedic, irreverent and grown-up version of “Doctor Who” – complete with a really epic story arc – then you can’t go wrong with “A Trail Through Time”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a five 🙂