Book Two in the madcap time-travel series based at the St Mary's Institute of Historical Research that seems to be everyone's cup of tea. In the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary's series, Max and the team visit Victorian London in search of Jack the Ripper, witness the murder of Archbishop Thomas A Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and discover that dodos make a grockling noise when eating cucumber sandwiches. But they must also confront an enemy intent on destroying St Mary's - an enemy willing, if necessary, to destroy History itself to do it.
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Some of my recent listens haven't had quite enough pace for me.... not so with this book. It cracks along at full tilt. So much going on that I got lost occasionally (I'm blaming my previous slower listens where I could let my attention wander without consequence. Nod off here, and you'll certainly miss something!)
This is pure entertainment from start to finish - even the car destruction scene made me grin.
I'm really enjoying the characters in this. And even learning a little about history too - I assume some of it is based on real occurrences....
The first book in The Chronicles of St Mary's, "Just One Damn Thing After Another" was a triumph of originality, introducing us to the world of intrepid, if chaotic, British historians risking their lives to witness past events first hand.
Chronologically, "A Symphony of Echoes" carries straight on from where the first book left off but the tone of the second book is quite different and, sadly, not quite as satisfying.
This is a darker book than its predecessor. There is less games-playing and amusingly clever trickery and more killing and death.
In this novel, Max, the plucky if unstable woman the first book followed from Trainee to Historian, has become part of management and shows an allegiance to St. Mary's that borders on the fanatical. Under her leadership it becomes clear that although St. Mary's appears to be an institution filled with eccentric individuals who muddle through while creating madcap mayhem, it is actually capable of being ruthless, even murderous. Its enemies are hacked to pieces, shot in the back, abducted and executed. It is even willing to go to great lengths to throw a woman in harms way to ensure that the "right" historical path, the one that protects St. Mary's, is taken.
I found myself thinking that this was a St Mary's that I would not be inclined to support.
"A Symphony of Echoes" shares many of the same strengths as its predecessor: it is witty, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and it is depicts bravery and loyalty in a way that made me want to be brave and loyal. Whereas the first book read as a novel, with a beginning, a middle and an end, this book abandons that structure and is the worse for it. "A Symphony of Echoes" is literally a chronicle, a record of important events in the order in which they occurred. It is a picaresque piece, following whatever happens to Max, without imposing any deeper narrative thrust or emotional or intellectual leitmotiv. While each episode was well described, I found the lack of unity frustrating.
I also found that some of emotional trauma Max was pushes through seemed contrived and distorted.
"A Symphony of Echoes" is still a good read, but unless the third book returns closer to the form of the first, "The Chronicles of St. Mary's" and I will part company.
By the way, the title refers to another definition of history: "History is a symphony of echoes heard and unheard. It is a poem with events as verses. Charles Angoff"
I'm hoping that this novel has some echoes I haven't heard yet and which the third book will make clear.