I. Loved. This.
The early part of 2015 was just crammed with time travel audiobooks. I didn’t mean to do that; it just happened. I didn’t even know a couple of them were time travel till I started them. This? Along with Connie Willis, this is the best.
Quietly, with no fuss, no fanfare, and certainly no signature tune from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Pod 3 materialized on its plinth.
Really, a well–done reference is almost enough to boost a time travel novel up a star. JODTAA didn’t need the help. It starts with a kind of a bang – first–person narration by a rather abrasive main character with Issues. It was a little disconcerting. And while I was disconcerted, Jodi Taylor (and Zara Ramm – never forget Zara Ramm when discussing these books) made me laugh, and then while I was laughing there was a shot straight to the heart (and a Doctor Who reference or two), and I was a goner.
The disconcerting: The main character, Max, is a beautiful, wonderful, really nice example of How To Avoid Infodumping Without Being Irritating. Does she spill her guts about her childhood and her family and her Issues right off the bat? Like the new friend with the terrible childhood and family and Issues, she does not; as in the best friendships, history is teased out, thread by thread, and the threads bind, a bit closer and a bit closer till the relationship is indispensable. Do we know everything about Max by the end of the book? Nope. (Do we know everything about Max by the end of the second book, or the third? Nope.)
There are more books to come. There’s plenty of time. Meanwhile, Max is a walking open wound, with only the fragile protection of a biting sense of humor.
That humor … All I can think of is Hawkeye Pierce ordering a martini: “Dry, drier, driest. A veritable dust bowl of a martini. Mr. Kwang, make me such a martini.” Ms. Taylor has used such humor in her writing. Yes, there’s a bit of slapstick – St. Mary’s are prone to the pratfall, plus explosions – but most of the humor is in the adept turn of phrase, the agile twist of meaning. The only line I made a note of from this novel is “My room was warm and dim, a bit like me really…” Which is pretty typical. Self–deprecating, dusty dry, and chuckle–worthy.
And the shot to the heart… Oh, my. The warmth, the camaraderie, the humor – it all has a reverse side. And because the positive side is so genuine and engaging, the betrayals – and it is a plural – and the grief are all the more painful. As with the Connie Willis Oxford Time Travel series, this isn’t just a romp. It’ll break your heart. And then you’ll be laughing again in a few minutes. And you’ll want tea. Lots of tea. I want tea.
Since I brought it up… Yes, there are definitely echoes between the Oxford Time Travels and The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. Time travel (including to WWII) for historical research and observation, the discouragement by the timeline itself from interference, the slightly fuzzy–because–it’s–just–the–vehicle mode of time travel… The sense of humor, cheek by jowl with pain. Sure, all that is in both. But these are two completely different animals – the same family, perhaps, but different
genuses (geni? Oh – ) genera. I’ve loved Connie Willis and her works for a long time, and I can be fiercely protective when I think it’s necessary. Here, it’s not.
Oh, there is one other line I made early note of: I never before heard “Sod that for a game of soldiers.” Is it wrong that I don’t quite know what it means but I desperately want to start using it? I won’t; my occasional “bloody” gets enough funny looks (stupid U.S.). But I want to. (Note: I looked up the phrase – no one knows exactly what it means. However, the acronym leads to the oath “For the love of St Fagos” – Saint Fagos: the Patron Saint of thankless tasks. That I am totally going to start using.)