20 December 2007

Book Review: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

First Among Sequels Fourteen years after her near-death experience at the SuperHoop croquet final, Thursday Next seems to have settled into comfortable middle age, working in a carpet shop while Landen writes and looks after the kids. But floor coverings are just a front for the underground continuation of disbanded SpecOps departments, which in turn is a front for her forays into the Bookworld. And, as ever, Thursday’s life is anything but comfortable. Her favourite Welsh cheese smugglers might be into something even she can’t ignore - a cheese so strong it has to be chained down. The local dodo fanciers want to kidnap Pickwick. Uncle Mycroft’s ghost has been appearing with a message for her ... but he can’t remember what it is. Her son Friday was supposed to be a clean-cut young man who would join the ChronoGuard and invent time travel; instead, he’s a headbanging layabout who might just get eradicated and replaced with an alternate version. A dangerous psychopath has apparently dematerialised from the carpet shop’s holding cell, and the only person who might be able to help is the truly nasty Aornis Hades. The resurgent and suddenly friendly Goliath want her help fine-tuning a transfictional tour bus. And that’s just in the real world.

In the fictional one, Jurisfiction wants Thursday to train some new agents - the two literary versions of herself, one a cross between Fanny Hill and Dirty Harry, the other a flake who offers hugs to Verbivores. The Racy Novel genre are claiming to have developed a ‘dirty bomb’, capable of unleashing outbreaks of bad language and gratuitous sex. Books everywhere are under threat from Superreaders, who rush through so fast as to cause several times the normal wear and tear. And as Thursday discovers almost too late, there is someone out there about to give a whole new meaning to the term ‘serial killer’. It’s going to be up to Thursday to find and stop them - if the Cheshire Cat can get her out of her latest predicament in time.

The next installment in this series can’t come quickly enough for me, given the cliffhanger nature of the ending of this one. Fortunately most of the plot threads were tied up beforehand, so it wasn’t as frustrating as it could have been (but leaving the main mystery still unsolved was bad enough ... and that Minotaur’s still on the loose). Apart from that, I adored Thursday and her escapades as much as ever. There’s even more Bookworld inventiveness on show, including book maintenance in hangars on a scale almost impossible to imagine (big enough to hoist all the country estates out of Pride and Prejudice), vagrant bits of oral tradition, and a visit to the very heart of a book. Thursday’s attempts to save the day also land her in an impossible Moral Dilemma tale straight out of an Ethics lecture, where failure to play by the rules could have disastrous consequences for the lecturer. Since the world of fiction has previously only featured actual books, it was interesting to see how other forms of storytelling manage their independent existence. The twist surrounding Thursday’s dash into The Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco was very clever, but my favourite was the discovery of exactly what Aornis had done as revenge for her Enloopment. For a Mnemonomorph, so simple, and yet so very effective. There was a meme doing the rounds a while ago, containing a question about which fictional character you’d most like to be. While I didn’t ultimately choose Thursday, I did consider her - but maybe I’d pass in light of this. Or perhaps not; it could be worth it for Landen, who’s simply wonderful (even if he does come up with atrocious ideas for books).

Then, after all that, I was horrified by the ending. Dramatic, yes; but also productive of a great deal of impatience. I want to know what happens! And I’ve got months to wait. Grrr....

Rating: A-

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776