If a combination of light science-fiction with history sounds appealing, and you haven’t read Jodi Taylor’s ‘Just One Damned Thing After Another’ – then WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?! This was certainly the question I asked myself when I finally got round to reading this 280-page novel, and right now I’ve no more than a couple of short minutes to do the generous thing and convince you of the same — and do this excellent book justice!
Arnold Toynbee’s quote that “History is just one damned thing after another” perfectly encapsulates the informal and amusing events of the narrative within; and despite having an average rating of 4.5 stars from 1,500 reviews on Amazon UK, this novel has somehow slipped under the bestseller radar. It is extremely rare (never) that I’ve found a niche book that I’ve loved so dearly – and so, I think the wider inquisitive book-buying community should know about this best-kept secret. Bestsellers are frequently overrated anyway. Yes – I went there!
To begin; the narrative largely centres itself around ‘St Mary’s Institution of Historical Research’, which is connected to the fictional University of Thirsk. Thirsk is actually a small civil parish in Northern Yorkshire, England. Anyway, ‘Just One Damned Thing…’ is an absolutely bonkers [British informal: mad; crazy] book, and because there are time machines involved, you will be forgiven for the preconception that this book will go down the “it’s a bit naff” path. In contrast, I assure you that this novel is such a barrel of upbeat, enthusiastic youthful fun, you can’t help but get carried along with it! (Just to confirm – it is an adult book.) Not only do the instantly loveable characters live history, I too embarked on a rollercoaster ride of laughs, tears and anxiety – living it, and thoroughly enjoying it with them.
The story follows our main protagonist Madeline ‘Max’ Maxwell – who is rescued from an unhappy childhood to become the latest innocent recruit at St Mary’s. After signing a contract of confidentiality, she soon finds that things are less book-dusty and a lot more exciting, behind the building’s innocuous facade. The delightfully eccentric staff at St Mary’s ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’ with the aid of half a dozen pods docked in the ‘Hawking Hanger’ and a number of departments including the Technical team, Research & Development, IT – let’s not forget the all-day catering staff and more, which are all overseen by the composed and equally commanding Dr Bairstow – Director of St Mary’s. St Mary’s is a hive of activity with frequent bangs and crashes, and its staff are a credit to the happy, family-like environment it radiates.
Following her training and graduation to become a fully fledged historian, Max’s job along with other St Mary’s historians is to observe and document historical events, and not die in the process. Sounds simple, right? Especially when there is a rogue time-jumping maniac, Ronan – who is hell-bent on seeking vengeance and destroying the institution in the process. The narrative isn’t as plain as initially laid out, as there are twists and turns which run in parallel to the main arc. There are dinosaurs in the Cretaceous (think of Primeval, cutting edge for its time) – blood and vicious battles, explosions and mud, disturbing instances of sexual abuse, mind, and spine-chilling betrayal. To top it all off, Taylor’s portrayal of ‘time’ is like that of a living organism, which quite literally ‘retaliates’ to stop anyone who tries to meddle with the order of events.
Of course, there will always be a certain reader who will be snobby of this straightforward style of writing – but in my humble opinion, a book’s sole purpose should be to engage and delight – it should never be hard work. If you take the book for what it is – a light-hearted bundle of very British fun, which is predisposed with an introductory ‘Dramatis Thingummy’, I guarantee you’ll fall in love with it and want to join St Mary’s. And if I can convince just one or two people to give this a read, I’ll die a happy bookworm. I welcome you to the Chronicles of St Mary’s series. Thank you, Jodi Taylor!
Published in 2013 by Accent Press, Reprinted 2015.
Written by Jodi Taylor.