After taking a break from Thursday Next to read the spin-off ‘Nursery Crime’ series, I was happy to see her again. With almost all plot strands from the earlier books wrapped up in Something Rotten, First Among Sequels introduces lots of new plot elements and characters, all in the familiar and entertaining setting of Fforde’s bizarre Swindon and the BookWorld.
First Among Sequels picks up many years after the end of Something Rotten, with Thursday in her 50s and ostensibly retired from her dual role with Spec Ops and Jurisfiction, instead focusing her energies on being a wife to Landen and a mother to their three children. She is, of course, secretly a full part of both, although Spec Ops now operate under the cover of a carpet company. First Among Sequels begins in classic Jasper Fforde fashion by setting a whole load of plates spinning from the get go. On the Swindon side Thursday has to contend with a reappeared Felix8, a resurgent Goliath and ensuring her lazy son Friday satisfies his ChronoGuard destiny. In the BookWorld she has to deal with a surprising apprentice, attempts by the Council of Genres to turn Pride and Prejudice into a reality show and the continuing attempts on her life by the Minotaur.
Although the BookWorld is largely more of the same, although with the pre-requisite introduction of new classics to form the focus (in this book it’s Pride & Prejudice), there’s a real weakening of the world building of the alternate Swindon. Thursday Next’s world has changed, with a lot of what made that setting so interesting moving away. The world which was obsessed with literature is gone, replaced by a vapid, reality TV obsessed populace, which forms a really rather clunky commentary on the dumbing down in our own culture. It’s a worthy message, but the original books already were a comment on our society, it just did so by showing us an outlandish alternative, which was much more entertaining.
When I read the first few Thursday Next books, I felt that their rapid, loose structure was to their detriment, but by the end of Something Rotten Fforde did a surprisingly adept job of tying all of these loose ends up comfortably. Therefore, I’m not worried about First Among Sequels. There’s a lot going on, and because of this not a massive amount actually happens, with the structure of Thursday dipping in and out of different plot points continuing. Things do converge a bit towards the end, and it ends on a pretty massive cliffhanger, leaving me suitably hyped for the next instalment.
These Jasper Fforde books always go past in a blur for me, something about them is just so compulsively readable. If you look too closely, sure, you might see a few cracks, but you won’t want to slow down and check them out because you’ll be having too much fun.
Thursday Next is probably one of the best female protagonists in genre fiction, and it’s always a pleasure to get reacquainted. Much of the supporting cast make appearances in greater or lesser roles, with plenty of cameo appearances from the most entertaining characters of the earlier books. There are a pair of new characters, who, without spoiling the surprise, are the real highlight of the book, but I’ll let the readers discover them for themselves.
First Among Sequels is business as usual for Jasper Fforde, but when his books are so entertaining that’s no bad thing. As the first in a new series, it certainly intrigues and entertains, and I look forward to reading the books I’ve yet to get to.