Thursday Next 1: The Jane Eyre Affair — Jasper Fforde

Alright, I know, these are out of order. There is a reason, but it’s not actually all that exciting. Now that I know that the readership of this blog is actually not zero, I’m far more wary of the conversational tone that has crept into these posts. Oh, whatever. The 7th Thursday Next novel (in fact, the first book I actually reviewed) was on my Kindle. I had just finished The Magician by Raymond Feist (review to come), which was an absolute tome of a book. Great book (well, there’s a spoiler for the review!) but it was long, so I wanted something familiar. So I re-read The Woman Who Died A Lot, and then wanted some more Fforde-ian hi-jinks, so grabbed First Among Sequels from my Calibre library, as it was the only other Thursday Next book I had in an appropriate eBook format. Unfortunately, the formatting was atrocious, and whoever had constructed the eBook file should be ashamed. So, I sought a better copy, which was promptly provided by someone who doesn’t have a public blog, and hence I cannot link to, and they threw in a few other things for good measure, and that’s an incredibly roundabout way of getting to the fact that I’m now reading through what they delivered, which includes The Jane Eyre Affair. (Note, I own the dead-tree editions of all of these books, I’m just not sure where they’ve got to.)

So, Jasper Fforde is a living British novelist with an interesting background, and you’ve read all of this before. I’ve reviewed three of his other books. He writes intelligent books that mean that you have an internet browser open to look things up. My range of knowledge is pretty eclectic, but getting in-jokes about classical authors is sometimes a bit of a stretch for me.

We meet Thursday Next, an accomplished LiterTech agent as part of SpecOps living and working in London. She is temporarily transferred to a classified division whose only purpose is the apprehension of Archeron Hades, a criminal of supernatural powers. Needless to say, things go terribly wrong. Next is hospitalised and blamed for the fiasco. A woman, in a rainbow-painted sports car, appears in her hospital room and insists that she returns to her birthtown of Swindon, and takes a job there. After doing so, her uncle Mycroft demonstrates a way of jumping in and out of the written page, a technology much sought after for profit and mayhem by the Goliath Corporation. (The hint is in the name, guys!) At this point, I’m wanting to just leave it with: “and hijinks ensue”. However, Next and Hades end up trapped in the original manuscript of Jane Eyre, much to the consternation of the reading public.

There is a great deal more detail to the world than the brief synopsis above indicates. There are ongoing discussions about the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, a topic upon which everyone seems to have an opinion. There is Next’s father, a rogue Chronoguard agent, who is constantly tweaking time to get history back onto the course that it should be on. There are dodos, part of the home-cloning fad of the 70s. It seems familiar, but it’s only an illusion. You’re transported to a world where books are everything, and the written word is the most important thing. (This is not a state of affairs that persists. It is fascinating to watch, over the course of the series, the change in the world that Fforde creates. It is spoiling future plot points, but the idea of people’s investment in time, and the eradication of the Now and how it relates to people’s attention spans, is some of the most biting satire that Fforde creates.)

Oh, and a tip? Read the names out loud. It took me absolutely forever to work out that Thursday’s love from the Crimean war (still going!) named Landen with surname Parke-Laine was a terrible, terrible pun.

A definite recommendation on this book, and the entire series. (Most of which I suspect that I’ll be writing about in the next few weeks.)

Obligatory links. I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and so by buying things through my links, I earn a fraction of a fraction of a cent. If you want to buy a bunch of stuff from Amazon, then let me know, and I can set up some Affiliate links :)

You can purchase the novel in many formats from that link, including paperback and Kindle.

The Last Dragonslayer — Jasper Fforde

This post was sitting in my Drafts since, oh, I honestly don’t remember. I’m going to finish it off and push it out. It may lack some length and quality…

There are some authors who hold a special place in a reader’s life. For me, the stalwarts of comic fantasy are there; authors such as Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett. (Though I have felt that Pratchett’s last few books didn’t have the same spark as his other work. An issue that Adams will sadly never have.)

Anyhow. My point is that I have some favourite authors. Jasper Fforde is one of those authors. I don’t buy the dead-tree versions of books anymore. A combination of reasons: the cost is higher, I don’t need to keep a hard-copy, and something about the environment. I will generally try to buy the paper copies of Fforde’s books.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

I’m going to recycle some Brief author notes: Jasper Fforde is a living British author, quite prolific (twelve full-length novels in as many years, with at least another four in various planning stages), who writes alternate history, comic fantasy, surrealist humour fiction. He is currently working on books in four series: the Thursday Next novels, the Nursery Crime Division novels, the Shades of Grey novels, and the Dragonslayer trilogy. And yes, I’ve read all of them.

(Meta note: this is as far as I got with my draft. Maybe this is going to be a little harder than I expected to push out…)

So, we’re once again in the realms of things fantastic. The world has magic, but it’s mundane, boring, dwindling, and so tied up in red-tape that most of the time it’s not worth the effort. Jennifer Strange is nominally in charge of the wizards, seers and sorcerers of the Kazam Magical Agency. When the death of the last dragon is predicted, she is revealed by ancient prophecy to be the last Dragonslayer, and must do her duty. However, when the dragon itself wishes to be slain, things seem a little strange.

(More meta notes: honestly, the plot is a little straightforward, but if I was going to try to explain it properly, I’d have the mention Tiger Prawns, a foundling sent to Jennifer, from the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster, and why he must face nine years of indentured servitude. I’d have to explain about Quarkbeasts, and why they shouldn’t eat galvanised steel. About the history of magic, and why magicians generally are devious. About thinly veiled social criticism about avarice, greed, power, democracy, the role of the media in the forming of opinions, and just how quickly people can become accustomed to the bizarre. Oh wait, it looks like I’ve accidentally provided a strange summary regardless.)

The book is fun. It’s a bit of a departure from Fforde’s other work: it is far less literary-based than the Thursday Next novels (see reviews here and here (more to come, I’m sure)). Tt inhabits a different world from the Colours novels (one, happily, quite less dire and dystopian), and is more approachable to young readers than the Nursery Crime books.)

(More oddness: my spellchecker suggested that I replace ‘dystopian’ with ‘utopian’. That’s, uh, strange.)

This is possibly the most scattered review I’ve done. The story is good, the world is well-rendered, and it’s not overly heavy in either prose or themes. Good fun.

Shilling myself

Purchasing through these links earns me fractions of cents.

Paperback:

Kindle: again, Amazon won’t let me link to the Kindle version. Use the Paperback version above, and change formats.

Thursday Next 5: First Among Sequels — Jasper Fforde

Arghh, I have updated in ages. So, in the spirit of actually writing something down, and hopefully getting the feel for things, I’m going to dash off a quick (ha!) post today, and try to find some momentum.

I’ve talked about Jasper Fforde previously. He’s an author of alternate history, comic fantasy, surrealist humour fiction, and is incredibly talented. One of my favourite authors.

First Among Sequels was the first of the Thursday Next books that I read. I picked it up from a counter display at the library, liked the cover, and my fate was sealed. It is the fifth book in the series, and did a reasonably good job of introducing the first-time reader to the world in which the story is set. Or world, more accurately. Thursday Next is now middle-aged, happily married, with three children (only two of whom actually exist), and with the disbandment of the SpecOps groups, has taken a job fitting carpets. This is however just a cover for her illicit SpecOps work as a Literary Detective. Which is, in turn, a cover for her work as a Jurisfiction agent–she is one of the very few people who are able to make the jump from our world to Bookworld; the world of the written page. She is tasked with training two recruits–Thursday5, a fictional copy of herself from the 5th Thursday Next book, the Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco (astute readers will at this point pause, and go back and check the “works by the same author page”. Doing so will find a list of six Thursday Next books, with the fifth one crossed out), and Thursday1-4, the Thursday Next from the first four Thursday Next books. Thursday5 is a tie-dyed hemp-wearing yoga-performing pacifist who is utterly failing to perform her duties as a Jurisfiction trainee. Thursday1-4 is a gun-toting violent sex-driven maniac, who cannot take instruction, and feels that she is destined for greater things. The real Thursday Next feels that neither truly represent who she really is.

It is at this point, having not read the first four books, that I did not know that they weren’t the violent sex-driven crime thrillers that First Among Sequels continually made them out to be. It is all tied up neatly by the end of the novel, but it is very meta in the meantime. In fact, one of Fforde’s best characteristics is his ability to twist history, whether real or not, in very subtle ways. I found myself looking up poets and their poetry, the plots of books and the history of authors, to get some of the jokes. They can be quite sly.

The book is good. You should read it.

Can you buy this book?

There is a Kindle version, but Amazon are not letting me link to it. Bizarre. Click the paperback link below, and choose the Kindle version. I still get the fraction of a cent as a referral, I think.

The paperback version: