Book talk: “Thursday Next: First Among Sequels,” by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel (Thursday Next Novels (Penguin Books)) by Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels
Jasper Fforde
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)

Book Description: It is fourteen years since Thursday Next pegged out at the 1988 SuperHoop, and the Special Operations Network has been disbanded. Using Swindon’s Acme Carpets as a front, Thursday and her colleagues Bowden, Stig and Spike continue their same professions, but illegally.

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.

Rating: 3.75/5

Other bloggers’ reviews:
Bride of the Book God 

*** If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link in comments or e-mail it to me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and I’ll edit this review to include it!***

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  1. I read only the first one so far and liked it enough that I plan to continue with the series. I’m a read-a-series-in-order kinda person, so it’ll be a while before I get to First among Sequels.

  2. Beth – Enjoy the journey until you get to this one :-)! Since even the author recommends reading these in order, I wouldn’t advise differently.

  3. I love the Thursday Next series and I just can’t get enough. When Fforde brings in minor characters from other novels, it’s like meeting an old friend. My personal favorite is King Pellinore, who got me through The Once and Future King and is wonderful in the Thursday Next series. Fforde has a serious gift for keeping books exciting and amusing and absolutely absurd, in a way that reminds people of the joy in reading.

  4. I totally agree about reading this series in order! I do love to immerse myself in Thursday’s world! Can’t wait to read the next one!

  5. Belle – I think you have summed up Fforde’s appeal perfectly in that last sentence. I’m glad he’s brought Thursday back, and that he’s not done with her yet!

    Marg – I enjoy that too; it’s familiar and yet completely different.

  6. I really enjoyed the first book in the series and am kicking myself that I still haven’t read more of it. Maybe this next year. It’s probably better that I’m not keeping an exact list of every book I say that about these days. I’d probably have a heart attack if I saw that long list. 🙂

  7. Wendy (Literary Feline) – They go pretty fast, so hopefully you can make time for them! Then again, you do have that TBR ROOM, so it’s not surprising your list is long :-).

  8. I love this series but I keep forgetting that I have the fifth book on my shelves (probably smirking at me for ignoring it altogether). This review makes me want to read it soon. Maybe next year.

    I actually started reading this from the third book then worked my way from the start until I finished with Something Rotten (I know, I’m a bit crazy that way but I wasn’t that lost and enjoyed The Well of Lost Plots way too much).

  9. Lightheaded – What’s nice about the end of December is that “next year” is a whole lot closer, so maybe you’ll be reading this in the very near future :-)!