And once again, I was running.
I was always bloody running.
Over the years, I’ve run from Jack the Ripper; blood-crazed dinosaurs; a crowd of Cambridge citizenry hell-bent on indicting me for mirror-theft and witchcraft; Assyrian soldiers; you name it, I’ve scampered away from it. With varying degrees of success.
But – the point I’m trying to make here – is that I’ve always known what I was running from. I rarely knew what I was running to – I’m an historian and we don’t always plan that far ahead – but I usually knew what I was running from.
Sadly, not in this case. In this case, I was running for my life and I didn’t have a bloody clue why.
This next bit is difficult. We all need to pay attention, because I’m not sure I understand it myself.
I’m Madeleine Maxwell, an historian. I work for the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. We investigate major historical events in contemporary time. It’s time travel, OK. Using small, apparently stone-built shacks known as pods, we jump to whichever time period we’ve been assigned, observe, document, record, do our best to stay out of trouble, and return to St Mary’s in triumph. Our pods are small, cramped, frequently squalid, and the toilet never works properly. For some reason, they always smell of cabbage, but they’re our pods and we love them.
Following the death of Leon Farrell, I accepted the position of Deputy Director of St Mary’s and put in for my last jump. For sentimental reasons, I chose France, 1415, the Battle of Agincourt. As usual, we – my colleague, Peterson, and I pushed our luck and this time we really pushed it too far.
Peterson was badly injured in the attack on the baggage train. In an effort to draw our pursuers away, I hit him over the head with a rock (unconventional treatment, true, but I was trying to save his life at the time), rolled him under a bush where the rescue party would be sure to find him, and ran like hell in the opposite direction. As far and as fast as I could, until someone stabbed me through the heart. A fatal wound.
I gave it all up without too much regret and commended my soul to the god of historians, who, as usual, wasn’t concentrating, because I fell forwards, not into oblivion as expected, but onto someone’s hairy Axminster carpet instead.
Still with me so far?
Mrs Partridge, PA to the Director of St Mary’s and, in her spare time, was the Muse of History, snatched me from my world and dumped me, confused and in pain, into a different one. This one. Pausing long enough to inform me I had a job to do and to get on with it – she departed. Because God forbid she should ever make things easy for me. I thought I’d been saved. And yes, I had, but only in the way that turkeys are saved for Christmas.
In this new world, it was me who had died and Leon who had lived. He had not handled my death well. I thought she’d brought me here for him. To save him. To comfort him. I got that wrong.
Leon and I had a painful and confused reunion during which I slugged him with a blue plastic dustpan. Long story.
Anyway, the upshot was that I was here now, living in this new world which closely resembled my own. Although not in every way, as I would soon discover.
Leon and I, strangers to each other, and scared to death of making a mess of our second chance, agreed to take things slowly. We would start a new life together in Rushford, away from St Mary’s, and see what happened.
What happened was more pain, more confusion, and a very great deal of running away.
Now that I’ve written all that down, I’m not sure I believe it myself.
The point is, though, that I thought I was safe. That, finally, I’d come to rest. The phrase, and she lived happily ever after, comes to mind. Although in my case, and she lived, is the important bit. The other part, happily ever after, is always a bit of an optional extra for me. But, my plan was that I would live quietly with Leon. I’d paint, he’d invent things, and we would finally have a peaceful life together.
We had one day. Not even that. We didn’t even make it to lunchtime.
I Do Not Apologize for Spoilers
Now, I know, some of you, who have not read books 1-3, are screaming “Spoilers!” to quote River Song. And I thought about that before I included the excerpt. Then I thought about the prologue of A Second Chance, book 3, which is a huge spoiler for what happens better than half way through the book. And I realized, knowing what happened did not change the fact that I had absolutely no idea, no clue, not a hint of foresight, about how the heroine was going to get herself into the predicament described in the prologue. So, I do not apologize for spoilers. If you read books 1-3, you will quickly forget that I told you what was going to happen.
Because frankly, Jodi Taylor is an amazing storyteller and it is impossible not to get completely and irreversibly immersed in the plight of Madeline Maxwell, or Max, as she is known to just about everybody. The Chronicles of St. Mary’s is really Max’s story. Her life, her death, her life again, her friends, her lover, her adventures, the danger, and the outrageous fun that she and her cohorts at St. Mary’s have every day.
So, today, I want to convince you that this is an amazing series. Kind of a review (5-star). More like an enthusiastic reader going on.
While I read (listened to) A Trail Through Time, I often thought about Doctor Who, the BBC TV series. If you are not a fan of the series, I hope you will bear with me (and maybe give it a try). If you are a fan of Doctor Who, I hope you enjoy this.
Why The Chronicles of St. Mary’s is as Good as (Maybe Better Than) Doctor Who
They are both about time travel. Okay, the St. Mary’s people are not supposed to say ‘time travel’. They call it studying historical events in contemporary time. But for those that don’t want to use all those syllables, time travel will do.
The Doctor and St. Mary’s personnel even travel to some of the same places. In book 4, both the imminent-eruption-Pompeii and London’s Frost Fair were visited. As I was listening to Zara Ramm narrate those scenes, I could not help but think of Donna pleading with the Doctor to warn the people who lived in Pompeii, just as in the book, Max is not permitted to warn or save anyone. In the book, at the London Frost Fair, the ice cracks and that made me think of the thing below the ice as the Doctor and Bill walked over the top of the Thames River.
They both have clever gadgets. The Doctor has his bigger-on-the-inside TARDIS and his sonic screwdriver. St. Mary’s has pods and techies. I wouldn’t be surprised if pods were actually smaller on the inside, considering how cramped they can get, but the principal is the same as the TARDIS. It moves people through time and space. And while technically, not gadgets, St. Mary’s techies are really good with gadgets. Running, calibrating, tuning, fixing and occasionally, creating something entirely new. I think it is possible techies may be even better than a sonic screwdriver. That doesn’t mean I don’t want a sonic screwdriver though. Who doesn’t?
While the Doctor may be able to travel to other worlds and galaxies to find adventures, St. Mary’s is confined to Earth. But really, who needs other worlds when you have all of Earth’s history and Markham? Read St. Mary’s and you will understand. Hint, there are two short stories with his name in the title (based on Goodreads series list). I have not read either yet, but I am looking forward to the adventures – I think.
St. Mary’s runs on tea. As a tea drinker myself, this is one of the many aspects I like about the series. Problem is, every time they put the kettle on in the book, I think I need a cup of tea. It is used to calm, medicate, fortify and stimulate. I am having a hard time coming up with a Doctor Who comparable. Ideas anyone? The Doctor rarely has time to eat or drink. The Chronicles of St. Mary’s gets extra points making a rousing good pot of tea.
St. Mary’s historians and the Doctor are really smart people who get by on their vast knowledge of the past, their keen insight of human nature and an extreme of amount of good fortune. They, the Doctor and historians, like to pretend they are in control, but in reality, the Muse of History or the gods tend to heavily influence events.
And why do those events need to be influenced. Because. YOU CAN’T CHANGE HISTORY. Rule number 1. I don’t really know if there are numbered rules, but this comes up often in both the St. Mary’s books and on the TV show. The Doctor likes to play in history a bit, and he believes he is totally justified because he is, well, the Doctor. St. Mary’s occasionally gets away with slight changes to history, but Max will tell you that is only because the Muse of History has allowed it and it really is not a good idea to mess with history. See rule number 1.
Both have characters that embrace life and all the downs, ups and adventures it can dish out. Max’s life has not been easy by any means. She gets herself into one dire situation after the other and still, she prevails. Most often with help from her friends. And she does not give up. Even when the situation seems hopeless, Max will look for another way out. Does this sound familiar to any of you who know Doctor Who?
The Doctor has his companions. And at times, he likes to think he does not need them. But often they are the ones that save the day. Max has an amazing team to work with. Everyone from the Boss, to Peterson, Dieter, Mrs. Partridge, Markham and Leon Farrell. I’ve come to adore each of these characters. While they are not main characters in the series, their roles are at times significant, especially Max’s love Leon.
I listened to book 1, Just One Damned Thing After Another and fell in love with the series. Jodi Taylor is a genius! I also have to give credit to Zara Ramm, the narrator. Ms. Ramm is one of the best narrators I have ever heard and at this point, I cannot imagine actually reading any of the St. Mary’s books. So many narrators change their voice pitch for different characters and very few are good at it. Zara Ramm manages to convey different characters without the need to change her pitch to a ridiculous range. If you are audiobook listener, I invite you to give a test listen to A Trail Through Time.
You might be interested to know that there is a series prequel call The Very First Damned Thing and the audiobook is read by the author. Currently, the price on this audiobook is free. Be sure to check the price before you download.
Honestly, I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite between The Chronicles of St. Mary’s and Doctor Who. But if you want to know why I like St. Mary’s so much, let me add a few more words. When Max and her friends are in danger I am on the edge of my seat and when the danger is over, I am happy for them. They make me laugh – a lot. They also make me cry. These are stories I dive into and willing give myself to the deep water because, though I may be out of breath by the time I surface, it will have been a heck of an adventure.
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