Saturday 29 May 2021

Another Time, Another Place, by Jodi Taylor


Another Time, Another Place is the twelfth and latest volume of The Chronicles of St Mary's by Jodi Taylor. Those of you who are familiar with Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog will feel right at home, as the basic setting is similar. St Mary's is an offshoot of a British university sometime around the middle of this century, a separate department dealing solely with time travel which takes place by means of disguised transport pods which can be set to travel to a specific time and place. The sub-sub genre which this occupies could be summarised as a time-travelling comedy thriller, with the emphasis very much on the laughs. The story focuses on Max, the (female) Head of History at St Mary’s, who has overall responsibility for ensuring that information, and sometimes artefacts about to be destroyed, can be retrieved from the past without changing history (or more to the point, the future) as a result. Meanwhile, the dead hand of bureaucracy has Max's outfit in its sights, so she has both past and present crises to battle with. 

You might wonder why I started with the latest volume (I am normally a bit retentive about reading a series in the right order); the explanation is simply that I was offered a copy to review. I don't recommend tackling the series in this way, as there are lots of unexplained references to events which were evidently covered in previous volumes. The cast (regular and passing) is quite large so I was pleased to find a list of the characters at the front - and less pleased to find out very quickly that the list is not entirely helpful. The worst case was someone called Leon, who from the start was obviously on very good terms with Max, but surfaces only occasionally and does not appear on the list. It wasn't until half-way through the book that I realised that Leon is actually Max's husband, and he appears in the list only under his surname. This kind of glitch would not of course bother anyone who had got to know the characters by working through the series, but it did mean that my grasp of the finer points of the plot was somewhat shaky.

So, is it worth reading? I wasn't too sure to start with, partly because of the lack of explanations for what was happening and why, and also because the humour is piled on rather heavily whereas I generally prefer a lighter touch (although to be fair, the same applies to the Willis book). However, the story and characters gradually got their hooks into me and by the end I was reluctant to put the book down.  The quality of the descriptive writing about the past cultures that the characters visit is particularly impressive: I obviously don’t know if ancient Babylon was really like that, but the author makes a convincing case, creating images in my mind which will last for a long while. I am happy to recommend this series, but just make sure that you read them in publication order.

I noticed that the first ten volumes in this series are (at the time of writing) available on special offer from amazon for a price of £25. That's a lot of entertainment for the money, so my order for the first eleven volumes has already been fulfilled!

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