Wednesday, July 18, 2007

First Among Sequals, Jasper Fforde

First Among Sequels is the fourth book in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next Series. Along with Jeopardy, these books are the best thing to happen to those of us with a liberal arts education. With Fforde's books, having been an English major is a decided advantage. Let me get one thing out of the way first. In previous posts I have suggested that the series be read in sequence. I really mean it this time. No kidding. Go back and read, in order

  • The Eyre affair
  • Lost in a Good Book
  • The Well of Lost Plots
  • Something Rotten
Better yet, buy these books then read them. I want Fforde to keep writing. I also recommend the British editions - better covers.

For those not familiar with the Thursday Next books, they take place in Britain, in an alternate universe. When the series opens, it is 1985 and the Crimean War is still going on. Thursday, a hero from the conflict that also saw the death of her brother, is a member of SO27, the agency in charge of literary investigations. There are 30 Special Operations agencies but everything below 20 is classified. Time travel is a reality, sort of.

In The Erye Affair, Thursday discovers that there is another world behind the covers of a book and that it is possible to "read" oneself into a book and, likewise, for book characters to leave their books. Over the course of this series, Fforde builds and incredibly elaborate structure for how books are delivered to their reader. There is no way to describe this process in a short review. Read the books.

Since books have an actual reality the whole of English literature is open to Fforde's interpretation. You learn, for example, that the characters in Wuthering Heights are in group therapy and Heathcliff has anger management issues. Along the way, you also learn that there are actually only five pianos in all of literature and they have to be shifted from book to book. If you have read all the books it makes sense.

First Among Sequels starts fourteen years after Something Rotten. Brief aside:
You will gain an appreciation for the potential for croquet matches after reading Something Rotten and wish that they were televised on ESPN. Think of croquet with the possibility that someone could be killed.
Back to the story. Most of the SO agencies have been disbanded but Thursday has set up a shadow agency n the guise of a flooring company to continue her activities. She is also continuing her duties as a Jurisfiction Agent. In this role, she is an outlander (i.e. a real person) operating within bookworld and enforcing the rules under which fiction operates. Her adventures have been published and she has to work with two very different, fictional versions of herself. she has two problems to solve. First, the possible end of all time might hinge on whether or not her son Friday joins the ChronoGuard (time enforcement agency). Second, people have stopped reading and reality television shows such as Samaritan Kidney Swap are rising in popularity. How can this be reversed?

None of this makes much sense, does it? I think it is nearly impossible to write a coherent summary of these books. They are full of atrocious literary puns, a look at what characters from books are really like, and fun facts such as there are only five pianos in all of literature and they have to be shifted from book to book. Oh, and each book has special features and upgrades on Fforde's websites. For the special features, you have to answer a question from the book.

I would reluctantly say that First Among Sequels is the weakest of the series. Some of the humor is forced and he includes some thinly veiled references to the political situation in a large nation to the west of the U.K. Fforde also introduces a contemporary fiction character, Temperance Brennan, the forensic anthropologist created by Kathy Reichs. I think this is the first time he has done this.

Still, I have no regrets for having ordered the U.K. edition and will buy whatever Fforde publishes next.

Fforde has another series in the same universe, The Nursery Crimes series. The two books in this series are:
  • The Big Over Easy
  • The Fourth Bear
Jasper Fforde Home Page
Thursday Next Home Page
First Among Sequels on Amazon UK