Written by Jodi Taylor
Review by: Nisha
Just like many bibliophiles, I have an obsession not just with reading books, but acquiring them as well. And I married a man who shares that obsession, so we basically enable each other. So when I walk past a shelf of reduced books in a supermarket, I think “ooh, let’s see what they have…”
The title of this book amused me so much that I picked it up, along with the following two instalments, and off to the checkouts we went. This is always a risk- buying a book series on a whim. What if it’s reduced for a reason? What if I just wasted money (although, admittedly, less than a fiver) and time on something that’s poorly written?
Nevertheless, it made its way to the top of my TBR and I got stuck in.
In my experience, whilst I love book series for the most part, I have three main criteria:
It’s a young adult series
It’s about witches (or a supernatural creature of some kind)
It’s written by Cate Tiernan
This book did not meet any of these criteria.
I bloody loved it.
“Just One Damned Thing After Another” is told in first person narrative by historian Dr Madeleine Maxwell or, as we will come to know her, Max. The story begins as she is contacted by a trusted university lecturer with a suggestion that she apply for the latest job opening at St Mary’s Institute. She goes for the interview and sees a historical research facility that seems a little more eccentric than one might expect, including a heavy-duty security team, a costume department and a 24 hour cafeteria (although Max instantly decides she’s quite happy with the last one, which endeared her to me immediately). Once she accepts the position and signs a very big pile of ‘mention anything about this ever and we’ll lock you away’ papers, the mystery is revealed.
Historians at St Mary’s don’t just verify through research, they travel through time and see it firsthand.
A lot of time is covered in these books- at least five years. In this time, we see their training period, their first time travel experience as well as more daring expeditions to the Cretaceous period. It’s not all cheerful jaunts, mind you- when History senses something that’s not supposed to be there, it will try to squish it like a bug. Not to mention there’s another group of time travellers looking to cause trouble, as well as drama between the different members of the St Mary’s team.
First and foremost, this book discusses time travel- what precautions need to be taken, what to do when you’re in another timeline and the consequences of messing around with it. I’m not a huge history buff, but I really enjoyed following the crew to different places and seeing historical events through a different lens. Taylor’s writing is extremely vivid and you really feel like you’re with Max and experiencing what she’s experiencing. I imagine there probably are some inaccuracies in the writing in regards to historical accuracy, but I personally didn’t spot any. Indeed, some of the historians and researchers get into arguments about what is the most accurate, which results in plenty of humour, and there’s a sideways nod to the theory that dinosaurs had feathers.
Taylor manages to cover a large amount in what is a relatively short novel. In these 260-ish pages, we meet (and say goodbye to) a wide range of characters, see relationships build up and break down, visit different periods of history and several climaxes. I could not put this book down (when I did, it wasn’t without a fight). Taylor keeps the reader engaged throughout the story, as you hunger for what happens next, which mysteries will be revealed next? On top of that, Jodi Taylor’s writing is ridiculously funny. Writing as Max, she’s sarcastic, self-deprecating, intelligent and completely incapable of conducting herself in a decent manner around the object of her affection (although, admittedly, he’s not that much better, making their relationship mostly adorable). On the latter point, this book has several relationship plots, yet it never overtakes the overriding time-travel plots or becomes the central focus. However, at the same time, the relationships are written really well and make you very emotionally involved. Also, to balance out the ‘looooove’ section, it’s gory. Remember what I said about History squishing you like a bug? Gory. This is not a book for the faint-hearted, Taylor does like to get graphic. With death and violence… also with sex (remember when I said “climaxes”. More than one meaning, readers). That being said, the gory nature is not gratuitous. Nothing drags down a book more than being sexually explicit or full of blood and guts for absolutely no reason. The plot, and Max’s voice, do call for the detail, and it contributes to the overall atmosphere of the St Mary’s world. Stakes are high, and emotions are higher.
Also, Max is a very strong lead. She’s intelligent, funny and very relatable, even if you’re not a time travelling historian. She encounters situations that many people may encounter in their lifetime, which opens up brief discussions on politics, abuse, homelessness and sexual assault. I won’t dive into that, as it will spoil the plot, but I wanted to mention it as a trigger warning. Taylor doesn’t go into too great a detail, but it may have an effect on those who have experienced any of the above.
This is one of those books where you do need to set aside some time to just curl up with a blanket and read. If you’re due to go somewhere, set an alarm, otherwise you might come out of reading to realise you just missed a wedding. Unfortunately, ‘I was reading this really awesome book’ doesn’t tend to get accepted by anyone outside our little book-manic minority.
I highly recommend this book. I’ve already made my way to the third instalment and loving it!