The Historians at St.Mary’s have a straightforward approach to discovering what really happened at an historical event, they get in a POD, travel back in time and take a shufftie at what’s going on.
Of course, that means that they risk getting abducted, maimed or killed by the locals or simply by their own clumsiness, but they are a plucky lot who are willing to take their chances and get on with things in their own anarchic way.
The lead Historian, Madeleine Maxwell, “Max”, is the embodiment of what a St. Mary’s Historian should be: insatiably curious, unthinkingly courageous, capable of great compassion but implacable in dealing with those she sees as evil.
She’s come a long way from her rookie days in the first book, “Just One Damned Thing After Another” when she had “damaged misfit” written all the way through her like “Brighton” in a bar of rock.
She is a leader: doing the detailed planning, wrangling the St. Mary’s mob into almost acting as a team, winning the respect and even the love of her people. She’s getting her personal life together after a series of disasters.
Of course, in a Jodi Taylor novel, where every silver lining has a cloud, this degree of happiness and accomplishment can only mean that Max is doomed. Which indeed she is, though I won’t disclose her fate here.
The St. Mary’s books really are chronicles, describing events in the order that they happened, although, with time travel involved, the timeline can still have twists and turns in it. In “A Second Chance”, we follow the intrepid Max to Sir Issac Newton’s London, the fall of Troy and the battle of Agincourt. There are also a few unexpected side trips that you’ll have to read the book to find out about.
Troy has been a long-term obsession for Max. She wants to know if Greek soldiers really hid in the belly of a wooden horse and how they stayed hidden and how they got out and whether Helen’s face really launched a thousand ships, and hundreds of other things, so going there is a big deal and is described at length. What I enjoyed most about this part of the book was that, while original, plausible, surprising answers are given to all these questions, their importance fades as the scale of human suffering becomes clear. Max and her team spend months in Troy before the siege, sharing the way of life of the people only to it strangled by the siege and shattered by the assault on the city. The killing, rape, enslavement and greed-driven destruction hits home hard. This is not some Homeric glorification of war, but a description of the human cost of the phrase: “Troy fell.”
Towards the end of the book, after Agincourt, Max’s life takes a strange, world-changing, series-altering turn that finally explains the title, “A Second Chance.” This twist makes me certain that the next St. Mary’s book will be different from its predecessors. I’m looking forward to seeing what Jodi Taylor does with it.
I recently found out that Jodi Taylor self-published her first St. Mary’s book, “Just One Damned Thing After Another” after repeatedly being rejected by publishers. If you’re interested in how she did that, read this INTERVIEW