Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor is the first book set at St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. The book introduces us to protagonist and historian, Dr Madeleine “Max” Maxwell as she is recruited to St. Mary’s and discovers that she won’t just be studying history from now on, but will also be visiting it, and arguably making it. I’m a sucker for all things time travel so it’s a wonder I took so long to discover this series. Below is my spoiler free review of the novel.
If the whole of History lay before you, where would you go? That’s the delicious tagline on the back cover of the novel, and a real selling point. Set in the near future, we follow Max, a tea-drinking, chocolate-loving, and sometimes hot-tempered historian as she joins the ranks of St. Mary’s, learns the ropes of time travel, meets the people who will transform her life, and has some incredible adventures along the way.
Called to a job interview, Max gets her first glimpse of St. Mary’s, and we see the place and inhabitants through her eyes. Right from the beginning of the series, St. Mary’s is one of those fictional places you can only dream of visiting. Think Hogwarts for adults with more sex, humour, and swearing, and you’re almost there. It’s crazy, chaotic, and welcoming; perfect for Max. The characters she meets there are all brilliantly realised, and you will fall in love with most of them.
However, there are obstacles thrown at her on her way to qualification including exams, research (of course), a head of security determined to ensure Max actually does some of the physical training, friendly and hostile colleagues, a love interest, an intriguing villain, and even History itself. Max must negotiate all of this not only if she wants to qualify, but also in order to survive. Just One Damned Thing After Another is beautifully written, warming your heart in places and breaking it in others, and the plot leaves you fiercely turning the pages well into the night when you really should be sleeping.
The novel may have a strong sci-fi backbone, but there are so many more genres packed into the narrative from historical fiction to adventure and romance. And it’s so incredibly funny. You warm to the characters as Max gets to know them, and fall in love with them as she does too (Peterson, Leon, Kal). It’s an absolute joy to jump around the timeline with Max. It’s early days for her here (there are 13 St. Mary’s novels so far and various spin offs), but this headstrong heroine stole my heart right from the start. She’s far from perfect, but this is what makes her so likeable; she’s also smart, feisty, and does things her own way. Max is also a total disaster magnet who readers can certainly identify with and she’s up there with Jane Eyre as not only my favourite literary heroine of all time, but my favourite character of all time. Just One Damned Thing After Another and its protagonist are absolute gems.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
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