Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

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Published: 2013

My luck with picking up good books is clearly on a bad streak. What is wrong with me? This was a book that was on my reading list for 2018 as I loved the idea of reading a book where Historians are portrayed as heroes, and history is seen as cool not only nerdy. However, I could not come to grips with the author’s writing style, lack of character development and overall plot.

I think what annoyed me most was the first person narration and overall writing style of the author. So sorry Jodi, international bestseller and all, but it was not gripping and I would gladly put your book down, I’m afraid. Her writing was choppy and didn’t feel well written out at all. I understand that as first person it was what the character was meant to be thinking, as she was thinking it, but I felt she went too far and the writing style really began to irritate me. Here’s a fun little challenge for you, count the number of periods in this single paragraph:

“I tried to pull myself together. There would be extensive loss of life. There wasn’t anything I could do. There wasn’t anything I should do. Well, so that for a game of soldiers. Maybe I wasn’t very important in the scheme of things, but there’s always something you can do.” (97)

That’s literally just a randomly chosen paragraph from the book. If you like. The start and stop effect. You would really. Enjoy this book.

Secondly, I wish to discuss the lack of character development, as well as the general lack of character variation as well. I think by now you know that for me characters are the main driver of books and therefore they can make it or break it. After reading the book I just don’t feel there was any character development at all. The main character Madeleine Maxwell, is the same when she started – stubborn, confident and courageous – and ends with having learned nothing new. She is the absolute be all and end all of the book.

There is absolutely no complexity in the characters to make them interesting and stand out. They may have different names, but their mannerism and behaviour feel identical, with no defining features. Likewise, none of the other characters do anything memorable or interesting besides the main character, they feel extremely incompetent given their titles and roles. This might be with the only exception of Sussman who we find out plays a different role to the one initially assigned. The role of Max’ lover aka Leon Farrell is absolutely cringeworthy. His entire purpose is to love Max unconditionally, and ask her how she feels every time she gets back from one of her adventures. That relationship also doesn’t feel authentic at all, and is missing the depth and believability that would make it successful in my eyes.

In terms of my second point about characters, they have no individual personality traits. The protagonists tend to all be hilarious, smart and want-to-be-hip, and the antagonists are evil, rude and ruthless. I was so grateful for having the dramatis personae at the beginning because I used that extensively throughout the book to differentiate the characters by their roles in the book, as you couldn’t distinguish them based on their personality or language.

Last point about characters – sorry this book has just properly butchered it! – is that everything exciting happens to Max, the main character. Every single time she goes on an mission in a pod, it always goes wrong. Everything she does is always a novelty and exception to the “norm”. As the norm was never properly established anyway, her uniqueness just guides the whole book and makes it all very predictable and therefore not entertaining to read.

Okay, I just really needed to get those points off my chest as they were suffocating me! Now I did give this book some stars, so it wasn’t all completely bad. I still really appreciate the author trying to make History trendy and fun. She does warn on the first page that she did make all this up and that she’s not to be held accountable for the historical accuracies within the book. I liked that she added that because it didn’t make her pretentious, and right away set the tone for the book – adventure and humour are the key themes here, so don’t get bogged down by the details.

I also liked that she put in red-headed characters in the book – that’s right multiple, not just one! I do feel that we (yes I fall into the ginger camp!) are somewhat underrepresented in novels and media, and the author displayed that she wasn’t afraid to take risks and pave her own path by choosing unique characters instead of the stock ones.

I also appreciated her attempting to give reader some back story to the historical events that took place, for example Manchester’s Peterloo Massacre:

“In August 1819, sixty-thousand demonstrators assembled in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. They were anti-poverty and pro-democracy which did them no favours at all in the eyes of authority…equally looking forward to the day, but for completed different reasons were the local Yeomanry, led by Captain Hugh Birley. The protested linked arms to prevent this and were struck down by the Yeomanry…the crowd panicked; this was seen as an attach and six hundred Hussars went in. Eighteen people, including one woman and one child, were killed.” (p73)

I actually did not know about this, and as I reside in Manchester this hit home and I thought was really neat to include – particularly as for the rest of the book characters would go on adventures in the bigger scenes of the Cretaceous and Egyptian periods.

So overall, I have been left rather disappointed and underwhelmed. Needless to say I will not be reading the other 7 novels in the series.

Q: Have you ever been stuck on a bad reading streak?