"First Among Sequels" is brilliant. I may as well mention that first.
It's a chaotic book. Other reviewers have said that the lack of a main 'villain' is disappointing, I think the opposite- Fforde juggles various plots at the same time and the result is a sort-of murder mystery where any one of several different characters, in different worlds, could be the key. Among the various plot threads are some ideas of pure genius- for example the time-travelling authority the ChronoGuard who have been happily travelling through time on the assumption that time travel would eventually be invented in order to allow them to do it, but who have now reached 23 minutes before the end of the universe only to find that time travel hasn't been invented after all so they're not sure what they're going to do about it. Fforde refers back to ideas from each of the first four books and brings new things in at the same time. These books are heading toward bursting point.
With the ongoing Thursday Next series I'd say that you should definitely start at the beginning ("The Eyre Affair"), partly because you might find "First Among Sequels" very confusing otherwise, but also because reading this book will spoil your reading of the previous books, as , unlike something like the Discworld series, you'll know who's survived and who hasn't.
The fact Fforde is now five books into the series allows him to become introspective, and weave his own books and fictional versions of his own fictional characters (fictional squared?) into the narrative. When I first read that I was worried that this book would be in danger of heading, um, up it's own bottom. Thankfully it manages to avoid that and Fforde weaves "First Among Sequels" into the original "The Eyre Affair" in a way that enriches things rather than messing them up. I was reminded of "Back To The Future II", which in my eyes is a good thing.
If you haven't read any Japser Fforde before, go and buy the Eyre Affair, and work through the series. If you have read the earlier Thursday Next novels and are wondering whether to buy this one, it really is a no-brainer. All the usual Fforde touches are present, intricate plot, laugh out loud one liners, underlying erudition, engaging characters. One may worry that five novels in, Fforde could get tired or formulaic, but to my mind, he avoids both such traps admirably. My one gripe is that the political satire is a touch heavy handed, but that is a minor concern. Definitely recommended.
on 17 July 2007
Jasper Fforde is rapidly becoming the true heir to Douglas Adams: DNA was essentially a sketch writer, and could write sparkling little skits based round ideas, but had trouble stringing them together in a coherent story. Fforde is similarly ideas-driven, and will bend his plots to accomodate them, but he is much better at plotting than DNA ever was. Readers of TN 1- 4 will find TN 5 absolutely stuffed with ideas, many of them mind-bendingly brilliant, hung on a pretty nifty plot; the characterisation suffers a little as a consequence, but, hey, nobody's perfect. In short, it's business as usual in Thursdayverse, complete with some very funny jokes, a rare crop of vile puns, a whole shedload of literary and other references, and the usual ration of spelling mistakes (Jasper cannot spell for toffee, and while the proof-readers catch most of them, the homonyms get through every time). He's never likely to be accused of literature; but it's fun, and funny, and snaps and crackles with more energy than fifty other books. 4/5 stars; buy it.
One serious note: Aornis' revenge on Thursday is seriously creepy and disturbing. That's how you portray evil. Maybe he can write a bit, after all ... :-)
The first four Thursday Next novels were contained within a story arc that ended with the fourth novel. First Among Sequels attempts to get things going again, and it does pretty well to begin with. Swindon's more exotic branches of law enforcement are officially defunct, but actually continue behind the facade of a carpet superstore. The new reality takes some time to set up, and it's a while before there's any real direction to the narrative. Indeed, the amount of explantion of the ins and outs of jurisfiction and the book world in the first half is quite offputting.
Fforde pulls it all together just after half way through, though, when the real story emerges, and from then on it's the familiar helter-skelter literary lunacy we've come to expect.
The end, though, hints at a new direction for this series. Might there be a certain amount of convergence with Fforde's other series, about the Nursery Crimes Division?
on 2 July 2007
After the two Nursery Crime books featuring Jack Spratt this return to the Swindon of Thursday Next feels somewhat slow to start with; of course the inate plot complexity of inter-fiction travel, alternative Swindon, the People's Republic of Wales, the impossibility of time travel and introducing the reader to two fictional versions of Thursday mean quite some time needs to be spent filling in backstory. However once the story gets into full swing its right back to the playful perception flips of the earlier books.
This book is more satisfying than Something Rotten, its predecessor in the series with many teasing little tangents to relish - somebody stealing the jokes out of Thomas Hardy; the funniest books in literature, or the fact that the ChronoGuard could only travel in time because they assumed somebody would be bound to invent time travel at some point in the future.
That said, and whilst I loved the body of the book I was frustrated by an ending that failed to resolve the story and left the reader hanging like at the end of one of those black and white Flash Gordon episodes; cliff hangers are fine if you only have to wait another week for resolution, but two years? Give us a break!
For followers of the series this is a definite must buy, but for a first dip into the world of Jasper Fforde I'd strongly suggest you start with the Eyre Affair (the first Thursday Next book) or The Big Over Easy - a lighter, less complex read featuring stronger characterisation and more laughs.
First Among Sequels is the fifth novel in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. The narration starts in 2002, some fourteen years after Something Rotten. Thursday, now 52 and feeling her age, is working at Acme Carpets, Spec Ops having been disbanded soon after the Commonsense Party came to power. Her sixteen-year-old son, Friday, destined to lead the ChronoGuard and save the world, is a typically teenage smelly, grunty bedslug. Landen and Thursday have two daughters, Tuesday and Jenny, and Landen writes at home whilst Thursday secretly runs her own Spec Ops branch and, in the Book World, trains cadet agents for Jurisfiction. Reality TV shows like Samaritan Kidney Swap have become popular, and read rates are dropping dramatically, a cause for great concern in the Book World. Tension is mounting between some of the genres in the Book World, and the Council of Genres is proposing to make books interactive. As things come to a head, Thursday finds herself, unthinkably, going to Goliath Corporation for help. While some of the pieces about time travel and the ChronoGuard almost had my eyes glazing over, things I loved in this excellent novel were the book refitter's own language, the fictional Thursdays, the Stupidity Surplus, Schrödinger's Night Fever Principle, the good ship Moral Dilemma on the Hypothetical Ocean, Aornis Hades timeloop prison, books whose genres change, piano exchange, the serial killer pun and the cheese smuggling. Landen has previously been very much in the background, but in this instalment his character is developed and we see more of Thursday's family life. Fforde is always inventive with names and this book is no exception: Mrs Berko Boyler, Daphne Farquit, Aflredo Traficcone, Anne Wirthlass-Schitt, Cherie Yogert, Hedge Moulting, Cliff Hangar, Irritable Vowel Syndrome, and the various cheese names; Salmon Thrusty's "The Demonic Couplets" is worthy of Rushdie himself. Thursday makes a lovely speech about the importance of the reader. The cliff hanger ending will send readers in search of the next Thursday Next novel, One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Reminiscent of Douglas Adams, this is another excellent dose of Jasper Fforde.
on 1 February 2008
I don't laugh out loud much these days - but if I do I'm probably reading a Fforde novel. Having browsed the earlier reviews on this site I would add these comments: I agree there was a lot of plot reviewing from earlier books, but I found this helpful. Since reading "Something Rotten" I've been reading the Nursery Crime books, and all the reminders in FAS were useful memory joggers - they've also prompted me to re-read the series. Some reviewers didn't like the plot, the 'technical' ideas and the pace; also there were some comparisons with Douglas Adams. I read Fforde books in the same way I read the Adams books - I give my analytical side the day off and just enjoy the ride.
I tried very hard to take as long as possible to read this book in order to make the enjoyment last as long as possible, but I read the last third in one night - couldn't put it down.
on 17 July 2007
Firstly to all those people who have like me found the lack of footnotes rather irritating. If you go on to Fforde's website he explains that this is a publishing error and everyone is entitled to a free second edition with the footnotes printed. Alternatively the footnotes are also on the website to print out and stick in if you so wish.
Anyway on to the book. There aren't many words to describe how brilliant I think this book is. He has so many ideas that he cleverly weaves together with as little effort as possible. While all the time travel stuff can be somewhat confusing it's comforting to know that Thursday herself also does and as the reader all you need to know is the absolute basics!
If you live in and around Swindon this, and all the books in the series, are especially familiar. The old TK Maxx is mentioned before it moved elsewhere and having been in the store personally makes the story line written about the store even more hilarious, Chippenham is in there too and Devizes, all of which will mean nothing to most people but it's what makes me love it more!
The book leaves you champing at the bit for the next installment (which unfortunately isn't out until 2009!) as the ending is left on a huge cliff hanger leaving you wondering at Thursday's fate.
Anyway this is an absolute must for a Fforde fan. However if you're a newby to this series start at the beginning, it'll make much more sense.
on 5 July 2007
Amazon Germany kindly dropped this book into my mail a full week before the official publication date. Considering the novel's plot that once more revolves around various forms of time travel and its paradoxes this could of course just be a marketing scheme worthy of Goliath, indeed, but just as fine with me.
Having said that I just finished the book today, July 5th and it was a good, fluent and certainly entertaining read. The missing footnotes (see Mr Fforde's website for addendum) are a downer, but you can fill in the gaps without much trouble.
As with most of the Thursday Next series, a main plot is hard to make out. Fforde does sidesteps and elongated narratives that are seemingly unrelated to the presumed main story. Without spoilering, most of those ARE indeed connected in the end, yet some remain to be resolved in the next sequel. True to its title, the novel ends with a cliff hanger, so beware. However, I do not feel cheated but am eagerly expecting the next installment.
In all, it has everything one came to love about Thursday Next, treats you to at least three big surprises in best postmodern Fforde fashion, and finishes one of my favorite story elements for good (though you never know with this one...). As sad as this is, it is exercised beautifully. One star deduction, however, for a feeling of "could have been even better" that I did feel during the whole read. Too many things going on maybe while there is no strong antagonist (in other words: no Hades, not really at least) and the one that poses the biggest threat only gets introduced well into the second act.
Summing it up: Ffans will be more than happy to see Thursday return; people who never read any of her adventures before could start with this one - which is a surprise in its own - but I suggest picking up "The Eyre Affair" and work your way up from there.
"Boy, was this book ever crap." - In FIRST AMONG SEQUELS, Thursday Next's judgment upon the first book in the series, THE EYRE AFFAIR
The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde must rank as one of the greatest flights of imagination in the annals of fiction. For the bibliophile, the imagery contained in the narratives is mind-boggling and addictive.
Next lives in the English town of Swindon. In the first four volumes of the series (The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel,Lost in a Good Book,The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next Novels (Penguin Books)), and Something Rotten), it's the mid-1980s. In FIRST AMONG SEQUELS, it's 2002. But Fforde's United Kingdom isn't the one we know; mammoth herds roam the island, cloned Neanderthals comprise a subclass, Thursday has a pet dodo bird, and long distance travel is by Gravitube.
But the author's most ambitious imaginative construct is Bookworld. Existing in an alternate universe, it's where books exist as physical entities, where the plots - and, most importantly in the Next series, the fictional plots - exist as something akin to stage sets on which the literary characters are actors that play their roles when the book is read by someone in Outland, i.e. Thursday's "real" world. You can get a sense of the place from a description of Hanger Eight in Bookworld's Book Maintenance Facility:
"... there was room on the hanger floor for not only Darcy's country home of Pemberly but also Rosings, Netherfield and Longbourn as well. They had all been hoisted from (Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics)) by a massive overhead crane so the empty husk of the novel could be checked for fatigue cracks before being fumigated for nesting grammasites and then repainted. At the same time, an army of technicians, plasterers, painters, carpenters and so forth were crawling over the houses, locations, props, furnishings and costumes, all of which had been removed for checking and maintenance."
Next has the capability, unique among Outlanders, to travel between her world and Bookworld. As such, she's the super-agent of Jurisfiction, Bookworld's enforcement agency tasked with keeping order within the fiction genre. Disorder includes such things as book characters attempting to escape to Outland, the inexplicable seepage of humor from comedic novels, improvised and unauthorized dialogue by mischievous character understudies, outbreaks of the MAWk-I5H virus in works by Dickens, the buildup of irony on dialogue injectors, malicious narrative corruption, and plot disruptions caused by a shortage of the pianos used as props.
Thursday also smuggles Welsh cheese; an underground cheese market rose in response to the England's hated Cheese Duty which levies taxes ranging from 1300 to 1500 percent on the smelly foodstuff. Personally, I'd like to see Machynlleth Wedi Marw, a "really strong cheese", stocked in the local Tesco.
"It'll bring you up in a rash just by looking at it. Denser than enriched plutonium, two grams can season enough macaroni and cheese for eight hundred men. The smell alone will corrode iron. A concentration in air of only seventeen parts per million will bring on nausea and unconsciousness within twenty seconds ... Open only out of doors, and even then only with a doctor's certificate and well away from populated areas."
FIRST AMONG SEQUELS is the best yet of the Next series. It compels me to suspect that the author is on some mind-expanding substance; it's that inspired. A brilliant plot development is Thursday's encounter with Thursday 1-4 and Thursday 5, the former being the lead character in the first four installments of the series (described as being "the violent ones, full of death and gratuitous sex"), and the latter the timid and yogurt-loving Next of THE GREAT SAMUEL PEPYS FIASCO. (Am I confusing you? Never mind; it makes perfect sense within the pages, just as will the part played by the recipe for unscrambled scrambled eggs in the prevention of the End of Time as we know it.)
I've always considered myself a linear-thinking, down-to-earth kind of guy. But the tremendous appeal of the Thursday Next series to my reader's appreciation has challenged that self-assessment. If you're a book-lover like me determined to read until the last gasp, do yourself the great favor of devouring FIRST AMONG SEQUELS, and indeed the entire series if you haven't yet done so. Lose yourself in a good book.