"This is fiction. Odd things are MEANT to happen." That remark, coming from galactic tyrant Emperor Zhark, sets the tone for Jasper Fforde's fourth book in the still-fresh Thursday Next series, "Something Rotten." Funny, literate, and sometimes quite poignant, this proves that Fforde still has the spark.
After a disastrous incident in the Wild West, Thursday Next decides to leave Jurisfiction, and goes home with her two-year-old son Friday. But things aren't more peaceful in the real world: The Goliath Corporation has become a religion, there's a politician named Yorrick Kaine blaming the Danes for everything, and a croquet match is set to determine the fate of the world. If they win, the Goliath Corporation (and Kaine) are finished. If they lose, the world has a 22% chance of Armageddon.
Thursday's personal life is no easier. Her husband has been "eradicated," and her mom's house is full of guests from Hamlet to a 13th-century seer. Now her only hope lies in somehow getting the Goliath Corporation to give her husband back, and in winning the cricket match (with the help of Hamlet and a bunch of Neanderthals). But Kaine and the Corporation aren't about to go down without a fight... and they might take Thursday down with them.
Jasper Fforde won readers' hearts with the comedy/mystery/fantasy/satire "The Eyre Affair," and kept winning them with the two sequels. Though "Well of Lost Books" was a bit shaky, "Rotten" gets its footing quickly. Any book that has Ophelia staging a coup and taking over the play must be a winner. But Fforde also wraps up some threads from the earlier books, such as Landen's eradication. The question of Thursday's punishment (for changing the end of "Jane Eyre") is also dealt with, in a poignant and unexpected twist.
Fforde seems more comfortable than ever in his literate-spoof world. His writing is assured and detailed, with a few dizzy puns and plenty of English-major humor, like Hamlet being a Mel Gibson fan. He wraps dozens of seemingly random threads together, tying them off neatly at the end. The climactic fight between Thursday and Kaine is both funny and brilliant, as they set one literary creation against another, including Beowulf and the Jabberwock.
The smart, tough-yet-loving Thursday is joined by a bunch of characters both lovable and infuriating, including her Latin-spouting tot Friday and a bunch of Neanderthals. Gran Next has a secret identity revealed, and Landen returns... spasmodically, on and off. Most winning are the exuberant Hamlet and Thursday's brother, the Irreverend Joffy. Oddly enough, the villains -- such as Mr. Goliath and hit woman Cindy -- tend to be two-dimensional, but fictional ones (like Emperor Zhark) are enormous fun. Oh, the irony.
Jasper Fforde returns with "Something Rotten," a solid entry in the ongoing fantasy-detective series. For people who don't mind a spoonful of satire with their classic literature, this is a must have.