Monday, June 27, 2016


So for those of you who have been dying to know what would happen if Thursday Next and Doctor Who had a baby (perhaps, just for fun, midwived by the Librarians and maybe Connie "Oxford Time Travel" Willis), your wait is over! And your reward cup runneth over, cuz this is a series that is growing, Dark Tower/Expanse style, in all directions. As in later books/stories/novellas get decimal points and wedged in between existing books in series order and stuff.


I'm not 100% sure that I'm along for that whole ride, because cool as the premise of this series "The Chronicles of St. Mary's" is, there are a lot of problems in its execution that make me hesitate. But I'll get to those. What's up with THIS book, right?

Just One Damned Thing After Another*, the first book in the series, starts off with our heroine fresh out of graduate school and still scarred from a very bad childhood that she's managed to overcome mostly, it seems, by ignoring it except when it's convenient to use as an emotional shield to Keep People At A Distance. She is a historian, and soon to be a Historian; she is recruited by what seems to be just another adorably ramshackle and barely-organized English think tank but is actually the most amazing historical research institution in the world because they have time machines! And they want our girl, Dr. Miss Lucy Maxwell (since everyone there has at least one PhD she soon drops the "Dr.") to do research for them! By which they totally mean travel through time and watch stuff happen and clear up nagging questions about fact versus fancy! Who wouldn't want to do that?

But so soon complications emerge. St. Mary's is a perfectly straightforward and innocent outfit, but it turns out there are other parties with time travel capability who are not, and they're amuck in History performing various nefarious deeds that usually tend to involve active threats to the lives and limbs of members of Team St. Mary's. Hmmm! And some of the people in the (staggeringly long and detailed) dramatis personae (except the author calls it Dramatis Thingummy because she's trying to be arch and  cute and funny and Douglas Adams-ish**) are Not Who They Seem.

And of course, our Miss Maxwell is way more important than we at first thought.

All of this should be, and sometimes is, awesome. Lucy's first real assignment, for instance, is genuinely exciting and interesting and moving. She and some teammates are trained up to impersonate nurses and orderlies at a French chateau/hospital in France circa WWI's action in the Somme, there to clear up once and for all exactly whose fault it is that the complex was destroyed with great loss of life and morale and property. This is good stuff, written, paced and felt extremely well, even as it introduces several elements of the larger plot quite elegantly. It's only the hope of more stuff like this that I consider continuing with this series at all.

But then there's the other stuff. The soap opera/softcore porn stuff. And the fact that most of the male characters are pretty sloppily developed and often exhibit behavior wildly at odds with their established personalities. We're to believe, I gather, that this is because of stress, but I dunno. And just to spell it out and maybe also issue a Trigger Warning, there's a surprising amount of attempted/implied sexual assault in a book that otherwise comes off as a light-hearted romp. And no, it's not historically rapey types being historical and rapey.

And these unpleasant scenes jangle unpleasantly against the fair amount of eye-rolling romance novel dialogue ("I just want you to say you love me sometimes" "I can't do that because I love you all the time" HURL) that is shoved into this novel in places.

But as I said, that crap is very nearly the excellent mission material. This is time travel the way you and I would do it. Not let's kill Hitler, but let's save knowledge! And find out for certain whether dinosaurs had feathers! 

So, in short, this book is a bit of a hot mess, with as much to hate as to love about it. I'm probably going to have a look at the second volume sometime, just in the hopes that ultimately this settles down and becomes the awesome time traveling white hats vs black hats silliness that it really wants to be, instead of a coverall-ripper. But since this first book was pretty much half-and-half, with a pretty generous helping of Mary Sue*** in our main character, I'm not going to rush right into Book Two.

*The title is taken from an Arnold Toynbee quote, in which he describes history as "just one damned thing after another."

**And to be fair, sometimes she succeeds at this. Sometimes. But she's no, say, Howard of Warwick.

***I dislike this gender-specific, often misapplied and definitely overused term, but it kind of applies here, I'm afraid. She's adorable! She's important! Everybody wants to "get in her knickers"! She totally saves the day a lot! She finds the organization's True Purpose! And the guy in charge (well, I guess he's the second in command, because there's one guy they call "Chief" and another they call "Boss" and he's the Chief) is her One True Love! So yeah, a bit Mary Sue. A lot more so than, say, Rey Skywalker/Solo/Kenobi/Whatever is, anyway.

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