A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
A Symphony of Echoes (2013) is the second book in Jodi Taylor’s CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S, a series about an academic institution where researchers study history by travelling back in time to witness historical events. Tadiana and I enjoyed the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another (2013), as a light fluffy time-travel story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The premise is fun, similar to stories by Kage Baker and Connie Willis (though not nearly as well crafted), and the story moves rapidly, but both the characterization and the plot have some thin spots.
Jodi Taylor’s strength is her humorous breezy storytelling style and her often clever dialogue. Characterization, plot coherence, and worldbuilding are her challenges and they become even more problematic in A Symphony of Echoes. It starts off well as Max is accompanying a fellow historian who is making her final jump back in time. She wants to see Jack the Ripper. But things go badly wrong and they end up endangering the entire staff of St. Mary’s. This part is satisfyingly scary but it gets dropped before it’s finished. I was expecting it to cleverly reappear at the end of the novel, but it didn’t. (Maybe it will show up in a later novel? I doubt it.) The plot and tone then shift abruptly several times as Max gets involved in various seemingly separate adventures such as witnessing a couple of famous historical assassinations and going on a funny dodo hunt. In the final episode (I’m calling them episodes because the plot doesn’t flow very well), the St. Mary’s historians realize that history is on the wrong track, so they take a trip to England to try to fix it by convincing Mary, Queen of Scots, to marry the Earl of Bothwell. This part of the story gets a long wind-up as the staff prepares to go to Mary’s court, then is rushed to a climax that is both unbelievable and objectionable. (If you want to know why I used the word “objectionable,” highlight this spoiler: Max locks Mary into a room with Bothwell, a known rapist, and considers that, one way or another, the queen will be marrying Bothwell and thus, their mission is accomplished. )
The romance is pathetic. Max and her love interest are, despite being highly educated and accomplished people, childish and petty. This is, I believe, the author’s way of creating romantic tension by drawing it out with silly drama, but it’s not at all romantic.
Lastly, Taylor seems to be breaking the rules of the “world” she has created. We’re told in the previous book that the historians of St. Mary’s can’t change history (history won’t allow them to, or they die) and that they can’t travel into the future. Both of these fundamental rules are violated in A Symphony of Echoes.
At this point I’m regretting that I’ve already purchased most of the CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S novels at Audible, but since I enjoyed the first book, I’m going to give the third one (aptly named A Second Chance) a try. The audio production, by the way, is quite good.
I couldn’t get through the first book in this series.
Hi Sandy, for the same reasons mentioned here? What were the problems for you?
I also couldn’t finish the first one, and yes, for these reasons. The time travel rules made no sense (even if your time machine looks like an old stone hut, people will still notice an old stone hut that wasn’t there yesterday; right after a scene in which it’s reinforced that Time will kill you if you so much as think about influencing events or whether people live or die, the characters are undercover in WW 1 as nurses). The “historians” are ridiculously generalist. Nothing surprising ever comes out of their investigations. It’s unclear what their mysterious funders get out of the whole thing.
Also, the copy editing was poor.
I’m clearly less picky about time travel rules – mostly because it is all nonsense to me. I enjoyed the first two books though the second a bit less so. The versions I read must have been later edited versions because I did not find a whole lot of text errors and I notice them ALL the time because I do some beta reading for an author friend and those tiny little things add up.
Although, I haven’t worked hard on getting hands on the third book so it may have been in my head subliminally that it wasn’t good enough to actively look for the third book.