Welcome to a warped version of 1988, where dodos, thylacines, mammoths and Neanderthals are commonplace; fictional characters can exit the BookWorld; England is ruled officially by the president-for-life and unofficially by the malevolent multinational Goliath; and literature is taken very, very seriously. All of which means that Spec-Ops officer and Jurisfiction agent Thursday Next has her hands full.
The Minotaur has escaped from his PrisonBook and was last seen in the Western genre, using the alias Norman Johnson and leaving a trail of Slapstick behind him. PageRunner and would-be dictator Yorrick Kaine has launched an anti-Denmark campaign, and no-one at Jurisfiction can work out which book he’s escaped from. Hamlet is staying with Thursday, pretending to be her mad Cousin Eddie, while she works out how to separate his play from The Merry Wives of Windsor, with which it merged after a hostile takeover. Her best bet is to get a rewrite from a cloned Shakespeare - if there’s any left alive. There’s an assassin named the Windowmaker after her, plus her officially-sanctioned stalker Millon de Floss. She has to get Goliath to uneradicate her husband - and keep him uneradicated. A fictional evil galactic overlord wants her to stop his author killing him off. Her brother is playing host to a newly-resurrected thirteenth-century saint, who may or may not be a renegade member of the ChronoGuard, possibly aided by her time-travelling father. Who wants Thursday to avert an apocalypse by ensuring Swindon win an unwinnable SuperHoop croquet final. Not to mention the ten truckloads of banned Danish books she has to smuggle across the border to the Socialist Republic of Wales. And the equally challenging task of finding a babysitter for two-year-old Friday....
If all of this sounds chaotic, you’re right. And if you haven’t read the preceding books in the series (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots) you’re likely to end up somewhat confused. But if you have, you’re in for a treat. Like the rest of the series, this book is wildly inventive, hilariously funny, and a bookworm’s delight (especially if you love Shakespeare). After four books, I think I’ve figured out part of why this series works so well: create an alternate reality sufficiently outrageous, and no matter how eccentric your characters or bizarre your events, everything will fit right in. And somehow everything does. Being set in the real world, it’s not quite as off-the-wall as, say, The Well of Lost Plots, and I was a little disappointed by the brevity of the time spent in the BookWorld. But I didn’t stay that way for long; impossible with a book that makes you laugh as much as this. It’s not all fun and games, though; there are some truly touching moments among the comedy. And I am still in awe of Fforde’s ability to have characters time-travelling all over the place without ever getting tangled up in the potential paradoxes.
For fans of Thursday Next, this is a must-read.