First in a modern time-travel SF series, the Chronicles of St. Mary’s.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours and 48 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Nola Zandry

St. Mary’s isn’t like other universities: it’s dedicated to investigating “major historical events in contemporary time”, in other words going in back in time to research what really happened. That’s a premise which already grabbed me. I really enjoyed Connie Willis’ time-traveling historians and loved to get more. But the style is quite different.

Madeleine Maxwell, or Max, has a Ph.D. in history and is mostly interested in ancient history. She had a difficult childhood and she’s distrustful of people in general and authority in particular. She’s also a loner and not a team player at all.

Her former teacher, Mrs. Sybil DeWinter, sends her to St. Mary’s and to Max’s astonishment, she finds out that the institute has working time travel which is kept as a strict secret. Once Max realizes that it’s true, she wants nothing more than to work there. However, she’s just one of the students applying and the students are expected to help each other and work as a team, because nobody is sent alone into the past. Max starts the studies with gusto but the social side of things is a bit more difficult to her.

This book has both the Library of Alexandria and dinosaurs! It has fun characters and a fast moving plot. But it’s not perfect. The characters don’t spend much time in each time period so we don’t get to see much of them. The writing style is light and humorous and Max is good-natured first-person narrator. However, she and the rest of the students, who are all accomplished academics already, seem sometimes more than a bit immature for their ages. And if you’ve already gotten a PH.D. do you really want to return to being a student again for several years? Max doesn’t mind, in fact she loves it.

Time travel isn’t the easiest thing to write and that’s clear here, too. Perhaps because of that, History itself is presented as working against the historians. History wants to preserve itself and will even kill a historian who tries to change it too much. Yet, some changes are tolerated… or perhaps they’re paradoxes… always meant to have happened? Also, there are some points in time where you can’t travel to… because the co-ordinates of the time devices simply won’t lock there. Why? Nobody knows. Also, it seems that past is a very dangerous place even when History isn’t trying to specifically kill you. Historians are apparently lost routinely. Despite, you know, the whole time travel thing. I also felt that the romance came out of nowhere really fast.

Still, because of the light writing style this was a fun read and I liked the characters, although they would have worked better as actual students.