What is it about history that insists on slipping out of your mind (or out of my mind, at least)? History at school was never fun because of the stubborn way that only the most trivial information presented itself at times of crisis, such as during exams. As a child, I consoled myself with the observation of Sellar (Aegrot: Oxon) and Yeatman (Failed M.A., etc. Oxon) that:
“History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember.”*
Perhaps this is why we enjoy historical fiction so much—it helps bring the past alive in stories that stick. Some writers of historical fiction are so proud of their research that they desiccate their tales to the point where we might just as well read non-fiction (not mentioning any names). Thankfully, some writers mix and bake their tales with the lightness of a soufflé and Jodi Taylor, author of the Chronicles of St Mary’s, is one such writer.
The St Mary’s series (nine novels and numerous short stories by 2018 and still going) is sometimes located within the science fiction genre but it has only one sci-fi premise: that time-travel is possible. The only other general assumption is that, if anyone is going to do time-travel responsibly, then it’s an historian. The fun comes when we learn that the historians employed at St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research are entirely irresponsible in their all-consuming passion to find out what really happened. They specialise in exploring times that involve historical controversy, anywhere from the time of the dinosaur to recent World Wars. With just a soupçon of romance and sadness, these novels provide an easy way to become absorbed in the past.
They are available in hard and paperback as well as ebook and audiobook (which is how I became acquainted with them—great narration by Zara Ramm). The first of the series is titled, Just One Damned Thing After Another, although there is a short story prequel available, The Very First Damned Thing.
*If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading ‘1066 and all that: A memorable history of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates’ then I recommend the experience. Amazon has it available very cheaply and there are some free pdfs floating about the internet too.