A Symphony of Echoes is every bit as fun as Just One Damned Thing After Another, the first book chronicling the adventures of the historians of St Mary’s Institute, who definitely do not travel through time. No indeed, they investigate major historical events in contemporary time. Which is how the first quarter of the book takes Dr Madeleine Maxwell, the first-person narrator, to Whitechapel on a cold November night in 1888 for a look at the investigation into Jack the Ripper that turns out to be entirely too close for comfort.
One disaster is hardly averted before the next one strikes: someone has absconded with the chief of St Mary’s technical section. Leon Farrell is not just crucial to the Institute’s operations, he’s from the future (long story) and he’s Maxwell’s sweetheart (shorter story). Evidence points toward cross-temporal enemies from the first book who are trying to set up a more profit-driven version of historical research and who would be happy to put St Mary’s out of the competition. Permanently and with extreme prejudice.
These developments send Maxwell up and down the timeline to save her love and her institute, keep History from unraveling, and bring a few dodos to the future (not necessarily in that order). Worse yet, she may be condemned to spend some time as management.
Along the way, the historians spend some time in the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh and the court of Mary Queen of Scots. They are perpetually a hair’s breadth from calamity, and the pace of the story never flags. Having pulled out all the stops in Just One Damned Thing After Another, Taylor only puts a few of them back in for the second volume. Fewer characters get killed along the way, and I wonder whether the series will begin to develop a redshirt problem as it goes on, or whether Taylor will find more non-fatal ways to put her characters in danger. She’s definitely not going to give them a quiet life of perusing manuscripts, going to academic conferences, and pursuing methodological feuds. Especially since the next volume promises a visit to the Trojan War.