Science fiction and fantasy
First Among Sequels
by Jasper Fforde
Meanwhile the government is storing up a dangerous surplus of stupidity thanks to its unwise policies of sensible decision-making. That's the kind of thing that only makes sense in a Ffordean world, if at all. And there's more: Thursday has two fictional versions of herself running round from the novelisations of her life, although neither of them measure up to the real Outlander version. Thursday5 seems to be too drippy and hippy to survive, whilst Thursday1-4 is a nasty, leather-clad hard woman with no soft edges whatsoever. The real Thursday feels protective of them, but one woman can only do so much to save them from their badly-written selves (they're only badly written in Fforde's alternate world, the real books are pretty good).
Stories within stories within stories abound in BookWorld, as the author has fun weaving his characters in and out of all kinds of fiction. It's a wonder it's not incredibly confusing, but it's actually quite easy to follow. We see books being constructed and powered with story engines, and being brought in for maintenance after heavy reading, and existing in a universe that's mapped by genres separated by voids of wordless Nothing. These genres can be friendly, or downright hostile to each other. It's all very whimsical and abstract, and to begin with it's unclear what any of it has to do with anything in real life. First Among Sequels takes a while to warm its engines with this kind of fanciful worldbuilding. It's unusual and the dialogue is often witty, but the story lacks the urgency of a really pressing crisis.
This arrives in later chapters, when falling reading rates and one major act of stupidity collide to threaten all literature. Reality TV shows plumb new depths and the author ridicules them mercilessly. The second half of this book really picks up the pace, and we feel for Thursday as she discovers that she didn't know as much as she thought she did about herself or those around her. However the book ends on a cliffhanger that leads into the next book. It's not unforgiveable because there's also closure on a lot of the mysteries set up in this volume, but I do think it's a less than perfect note to end on.
10th May 2011
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Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Jasper Fforde