Thursday Next: First Among Sequels
by Jasper Fforde
The fifth adventure of alternate-reality literary detective Thursday Next takes
place some 14 years after the events of Something Rotten. In the years since the
1988 SuperHoop (the croquet final that decided the fate of the world), a lot has
changed in Swindon. Spec-Ops, including Thursday's literary division, have been
disbanded. As far as her stay-at-home husband Landen knows, Thursday has settled
down to a quiet life as a partner in a carpet-laying firm.
But actually, the carpet business is only a front for her continuing, off-the-books
detective work. In this parallel version of 2002 England, time travelers,
genetically-engineered monsters, the undead, and large-as-life literary characters
mix with regular folks - folks like Thursday's stalker, who moonlights as her
partner in a cheese-smuggling ring; like her writer husband, who has been trying to
sell a book titled Fatal Parachuting Mistakes and How to Avoid Making Them Again;
like her son Friday, who was supposed to join the ChronoGuard at age 13, invent time
travel, and save the world numerous times over, but who at age 16 lies in bed until
noon, speaks in monosyllabic grunts, plays in a garage band, and smells nasty; and
like her elderly mother and aunt, who spice up their spare time by detaining market
researchers in their parlor with feigned dementia and uncomfortable small-talk.
So even slaying demons, chasing rampaging dinosaurs, talking with ghosts, and
smuggling illegal cheese isn't a big stretch for Thursday's weird world - a world
where the government's biggest worry is the Stupidity Surplus, and where the worst
criminals are imprisoned in a time-loop in the checkout line at T. J. Maxx. But
actually, Thursday's spec-ops work is itself a front for her really secret job:
policing the border between reality and literature as an agent of Jurisfiction.
In Book World, Thursday is a very important person. She is the only "real" person
who regularly and legally drops in, and as such she serves as the "Last Bastion of
Common Sense" on the high-and-mighty Council of Genres. But trouble is brewing.
Forced to babysit two hopeless agents-in-training - both of whom look just like her,
because they are her fictional counterparts from the Thursday Next books - she must
also get to the bottom of a Goliath Corporation attempt to drive busloads of
tourists into fiction, the reappearance of an assassin who was last seen gunning for
Thursday years and years ago, a government scheme to turn Sense and Sensibility into
a reality show, and most seriously of all, the steadily falling number of people
reading books. This is a lot to battle when your ability to jump into fiction is
slipping, when a mind-bending baddie has planted false memories in your mind, when a
badly-written lookalike is trying to steal your life, and when the end of time may be at hand - and the fate of everything depends on a spotty teenager who hasn't
washed his hair in weeks!
My reviews of the Thursday Next books are, necessarily, full of run-on sentences.
How else am I supposed to give you even the daintiest sip of the full-flavored fun
Fforde has in store for you? It is wild. It is wacky. It is sexy, scary, and
drop-dead smart. And above all, it is side-splittingly funny. At times the
characters seem to be reading their lines off cue cards - they're just too perfect
to come out of the mouths of real people! Nevertheless, the weirdness and
originality of Fforde's fantasy continues to fascinate. His gags (such as a
clandestine cheese sale, and an encounter with a demon) leave you gasping and crying
with laughter. And his complex, kaleidoscopic narrative remind you, page after page,
that no form of entertainment can touch a good book.
You'll probably finish this one with a good-sized list of other books to read, from Conan Doyle to Austen and
beyond. If you belong to practically any fandom (including Harry Potter), you will
spot a reference to your first love while you fall in love with this book. And if you notice, as I did,
that not all the loose ends get tied up (for example, the minotaur), you will be
warmed by the hope that this First Among Sequels will not be the last.
Recommended Age: 17+
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