Top positive review
A genuine and most pleasant surprise!
Reviewed in the United States on July 17, 2017
Full disclosure: I hate, I hate, I HATE (imagine the word bolded, underlined, and italicized as well) fantasy and science fiction. I'd be willing to slog through most classic texts from both the ancient and modern eras (and I have) before reading sci-fi or fantasy. However, I am a history nerd, born and bred from the womb thanks to my history nerd father. Upon seeing this book/series in my recommended list, the history-obsessed Anglophile reluctantly, but stealthily, overrode the English dweeb who avoids all things science-y and fantastical. And, oh my goodness, I'm so glad she did.
First, most of us understand the disappointment of a book that promises "laugh out loud" moments then fails to deliver. This book not only delivers but does so in almost a machine gun fashion - over and over again before you have the chance to recover from the previous. Don't misunderstand me; there are moments where tears are certainly the more appropriate reaction. However, Taylor has a turn of phrase that makes me downright jealous. If I had an ounce of Maxwell's (the main character's) wit and sarcasm, I'd be a happy camper. Yet, Taylor can also create and convey through words the tragic and the devastating. Her narratives can stir emotion in the most unmoveable reader. Again, full disclosure: I've read all of the books at this point and, while I will not provide any spoilers, I will say that Taylor's descriptions of historical battles, from Troy to Hastings to the Somme, are both poignant and powerful. She provides interludes of dry humor - the calm before the storm - but her vivid retellings of those dark days brings forth a side of history that many of us don't consider. If we had the chance to go back and watch the events of history, could we watch people die? I'm not sure I could.
As trite as it sounds, I picked up Book One and couldn't put it down. I eagerly pushed through the rest of the books and the collection of short stories in less than a week. I also eagerly recommended it to both my father and brother (who are bigger sci-fi fans but also history buffs like me). Of course, there are some negatives. It's not linear in the plotline (sci-fi...grrr); there's some science stuff that goes over the head (not completely up on my quantum/theoretical physics) and some plot devices get downright soap opera-ish. In other novels of this type though, I've noticed such events don't move the plot along and just seem gratuitous. Here, Taylor seems to have a good grasp of when to use the sensational and when to not. Her fictional group, known as just St. Mary's, is no stranger to "Sod's Law" (AKA Murphy's Law here in the States) so everything is constantly going wrong. Once in a while, you kind of sit there, roll your eyes, and go, "Seriously, again?" There is also the occasional desire to slap the you-know-what out of characters, especially main character Max. That's probably a triumph of Taylor's character development; however some may see it as downright annoying. I could see it both ways - it was annoying to me mostly because I can't slap a fictional character.
Best advice I can give - do what I did: put your preconceptions aside and go in with an open mind. Now, if you're easily offended by language, innuendo, or straight up graphic depictions of natural human functions (done alone or in pairs...you know what I mean or you can surmise), then you might not want to read this. Other than that, I highly recommend this. The fun of fiction is that the reader has to participate in the willing suspension of disbelief. This series tests that to the utmost but, man, what a wild and glorious ride the experience brings!