I picked up Just One Damned Thing After Another because I had been considering it and because I had a coupon for a local bookstore, and I don’t say no to those often. I usually don’t like first person narrative and I still don’t, but there was enough story and character here to over-ride that instinct.
This story can’t quite decide if it wants to be action-adventure, character driven, sci-fi, or romance-drama. While it’s not a total success, overall the blend works pretty well. The problem is that the various elements are fairly segmented, and don’t always flow well one to the next. The good is that there is a sci-fi travel adventure with actual characters with actual relationships and feelings between themselves.
The overall gist is that there is a Thirsk university in England that is loosely attached to St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. This first volume of the series follows Madeleine Maxwell (Max) as she is recruited and trained and participates in St Mary’s activities. Naturally, she discovers that this is not a standard research group, but rather a time-travel team who finds evidence for current clients that answer unsolvable historical problems, such as “who was Shakespeare’s Dark Lady” etc. This set up seemed reminiscent of the secret supernatural organization world of The Rook, which I loved, so I was hopeful.
The sci-part is obviously the time travelling scholars bit, and there is a good bit of detail about the technology which is nice. There is also a touch of fantasy when Max figures out the “real” identities of Director Bairstow’s assistant Mrs. Partridge and Max’s former teacher who recruits her into St Mary’s, Mrs. De Winter. There is romance between Max and the Chief Technical Officer, Ferrell, and also quite a few other romantic pairings that just don’t’ get as much detail. The adventure comes in several different segments. First, Max and friends must survive training. Then, there is major assignment number 1 which of course goes horribly wrong at the last minute, and in the aftermath, Max is kicked out of St Mary’s. Then, it turns out the bad guys were the ones who were responsible for all the problems, so Max comes back to St Mary’s and there is another round of adventure to see if they can beat the main villains at their own scheme.
This fragmentation is a bit of a problem for me. Story-wise it’s a little like a series/season of Dr Who, episodic but kind of connected. Because the story is structured this way, there are gaps in the timeline of the story. Max’s initial time at St Mary’s is supposedly 5 years, but that’s not how it appears while that part of the story is told; you only find out that’s how long afterwards. Max is supposedly abandoned for about 3 months, but again we have only Max’s word for that’s how long it’s been, and nothing to fill the time with.
Characters are also affected by this problem. Max’s relationship with her first partner, Sussman is interesting but then he’s killed in the expedition disaster in the Cretaceous, and later revealed to have been working for the bad guys. Apparently, he was jealous of Max’s success, which makes sense, but we don’t see that from him, and there is only a little information given that he was a part of the bad guy team, including a suspicious bank deposit. There isn’t enough exploration of motive here, and the possibility still stands that the money at least might have been a set up. Sussman was clearly involved in the bad guy stuff, but why and how is not clear enough for me. In the second round of adventure, Peterson becomes Max’s partner (sort of), but how they start working together is not very clear. Max and Farrell’s relationship gets going pretty strongly by mid-book, but after Max returns they are suddenly co-workers and don’t have time to start up again, although there hints it might happen. Then there is the supposed mastermind of the plots against St Mary’s, Ronan who is introduced about half way through. His motives are known, but how he works and who helps him remains unknown. His connection to Izzy Barclay also needs further explanation, as her feelings and situation at St Mary’s seem similar to Sussman’s.
The Game of Thrones comes in to play with the merciless and consistent disposal of characters, some known and liked (poor Grant and Stevens), others who leave or are forced away, or die with little more than a name in some cases. There are a lot of deaths, some presented in more detail than others. One character gets eaten by raptors, which is described in more detail than I wanted even though he may have deserved it.
There are a lot of loose threads for future volumes to pick up, so I really hope that the holes will be filled in eventually, or at least some of them.