Thursday Next: First Among Sequels
2008, Penguin (paperback) (ISBN 0143113569 / 9780143113560)
Fiction, 384 pages
First sentence(s): The Swindon I knew in 2002 had a lot going for it. (Chapter 1 prologue) The dangerously high level of the stupidity surplus was once again the lead story in The Owl that morning. (Chapter 1 proper)
Of course, this front is itself a front for Thursday’s continued work at Jurisfiction, the Policing agency within the BookWorld, and she is soon grappling with a recalcitrant new apprentice, an inter-genre war or two, and the inexplicable departure of comedy from the once-hilarious Thomas Hardy books.
As the Council of Genres decree that making books interactive will boost flagging readership levels and Goliath attempt to perfect a trans-fictional tourist coach, Thursday finds herself in the onerous position of having to side with the enemy to destroy a greater evil that threatens the very fabric of the reading experience.
With Aornis Hades once again on the prowl, an idle sixteen-year-old son who would rather sleep in than save the world from the end of time, a government with a dangerously high stupidity surplus and the Swindon Stiltonistas trying to muscle in on her cheese-smuggling business, Thursday must once again travel to the very outer limits of acceptable narrative possibilities to triumph against increasing odds.
Comments: If you have never read any of the Thursday Next series, I recommend that you NOT start with this one. Even the author, on his (content-heavy but challenging to navigate) website suggests that this series be read in order, and despite the First Among Sequels subtitle, this is actually the fifth novel featuring Thursday. Go back and start with The Eyre Affair and work your way through Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten before you return to this book. It will be worth it, if you love reading, clever plots, imaginative action, and bad puns.
I love this series, and it was great to meet up with Thursday Next, intrepid Literary Detective, once again. Well, she’s no longer officially a Literary Detective, since SpecOps has been shut down, but she and her former SpecOps colleagues are still helping to keep the world safe for (and from) fiction from behind the guise of Acme Carpets. She’s also still working to keep the world safe within fiction as a Jurisfiction agent in the BookWorld, and as the LBOCS (Last Bastion of Common Sense) on the Council of Genres. In addition to this, she’s a very happily married working mother of two (or is it three?).
If I had to pick one thing I like best about this series – besides the action, story development, humor, and creative use of public-domain characters – it’s probably how meta it gets sometimes. One of the central threads of this book is Thursday’s encounters with two different fictional versions of herself; novels have been written about her adventures. (They happen to have the same titles and basic plots as the books Jasper Fforde has written about Thursday Next, but there are a lot of deviations in plot points and character development.) Then there’s discussion of Storycode Engines, core-containment chambers, and book engineering – it fascinates me to see how what we see as a creative endeavor can be reframed as a construction industry.
I really can’t reveal too many of the details for fear for both spoilers and causing general confusion, but in addition to Thursday’s experiences with other versions of herself, First Among Sequels involves classics being rewritten as reality television (a suggested solution to the “stupidity surplus”), cheese smugglers, a serial killer, and the looming End of Time – and more. But the overriding concern of Thursday and her colleagues is the decline of readership; decreasing attention spans mean that people are spending less and less time reading books, and this is justifiably seen as a tragedy that must be reversed. As a writer, Jasper Fforde is doing his best to help stop that trend and keep the world safe for bookaholics, and we who read should really appreciate him for that.
My only real issue with First Among Sequels was my own reading experience. I find that Thursday’s adventures go down best when I can immerse myself in them and read them quickly, and the timing wasn’t right for me to do that this time – I might rate this book just a bit higher if I had.