(2020) Jodi Taylor, Headline, £20.99, hrdbk, ix + 529pp, ISBN 978-1-472-27314-7
Hard Time is the second book in Jodi Taylor’s 'Time Police' series, which is a spin off from her 'Chronicles of St Marys' series. The novel can be read without having read book one, Doing Time, but it does help to have some familiarity with Taylor’s previous novels to fully understand the premise and background.
Jane, Luke and Matthew are relatively new recruits to the Time Police, whose job is to protect the timeline from those who disrupt it by being where or when they should not be. A simple mission to rescue a time tourist stuck in the wrong year goes horribly wrong. Then a team of highly trained operatives go missing and “Team Weird”, who are still in training, are sent in instead.
Those who have read Chronicles of St Marys will know the history of some of the characters and appreciate the occasional appearance of other characters from those novels. Matthew is the son of the main protagonist of the 'St Marys’ novels, Max, and her husband Leo.
The younger protagonists in this series, compared to her earlier one, could make it appealing for a younger reader, but it is written in an adult fantasy style rather than that aimed at a YA market. Having said that there are no themes or content that would specifically exclude it from an older teen audience.
In terms of genre it is probably classed as science fiction, using tropes of travelling through time, but does not really present the mechanics of the travel or really dwell on any scientific theory. The timeline is presented as a time map which Matthew can see and somehow interact with, but the detail or theory behind that are entirely obfuscated from the reader.
The style of writing is light and fast-paced, but that does not mean that the writing is without emotion or gravitas, but it does mean that it is an immersive reading experience, drawing the reader into the action from the start. The use of humour in the book is entertaining, rather hugely funny in my view. It tends to rely on something happening at the worst possible time or a character saying something unexpected. When Luke does not realise his boss is being discrete in trying to give their mission target a pseudonym rather than uninformed about her name and keeps talking when he should really stop, is an example of how the humour is used.
Despite the fact that it is likely the reader has little experience in travelling through time to enforce temporal rules, they may find elements of the story easy to relate to. Our trio of perspective characters are doing their best in a strictly hierarchical organisation to do as their boss wants, while always feeling that they do not fit in and are going to mess it up at some point. This very human sense of imposter syndrome is familiar to many of us.
If you need something to take your mind off other things and remind you that you are not the only one who is not perfect in all things then this heart-warming, entertaining tale might what you are looking for.
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