Book Review: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde


AuthorJasper Fforde
Title: Early Riser
Publication Info: [New York] : Viking, [2018]
Other Books Read by Same AuthorThe Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost PlotsShades of GrayThe Last DragonslayerThe Song of the QuarkbeastOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

I’ve been a fan of Jasper Fforde ever since my now defunct book club selected The Eyre Affair way back in 2002.  He generally pumps out his humorous, clever, metafictional, and totally original novels about once a year, but this time Fforde Ffans had to wait FIVE WHOLE YEARS for his new book.

Early Riser is unrelated to any of Fforde’s previous series of novels, although it shares some elements of the classic Fforde style. Every Fforde novel, while comical, is set in a dystopia and Fforde’s dystopia of choice is the Bureaucratic Hell.  In this novel, the alternate universe Earth is beset by long, brutal winters, so humanity survives through hibernation.  The Winter Consuls, a police force of sorts, stay awake to protect the rest.  Charlie Worthing, a Novice Winter Consul, narrates his first winter in this dangerous job.

One challenge is that Morphenox, the drug that helps people hibernate, has the side effect of putting people in a state of narcosis.  Sometimes they can still perform menial tasks, but if they get hungry, they may also try to eat people.  (And if long winters and zombie-like creatures make you think of A Song of Ice and Fire, there are some tangential similarities).  Charlie also has to contend with a woman who, dolphin-like, sleeps with only half of her brain at time, and has completely different and conflicting personalities.  Then there are dreams that are going viral among the sleepers and even becoming dangerous. And there’s a mythical creature called The Gronk, who loves Rogers & Hammerstein musicals and folding laundry, but will also eat peoples’ fingers (I doubt Fforde is aware of the New England Patriots football player, but its funny all the same).

Fforde novels tend to be high-concept, and Early Riser was the most difficult one for me to comprehend in the early going what exactly are the parameters of this world and getting past the jargon that’s sprinkled liberally in the text.  I eventually cottoned on.  The book is funny, but it feels more grimdark than other Fforde novels.  There’s an obvious parody of climate change in the novel, but there’s also the darkness of people’s’ souls in their willingness to exploit others for a little gain.  Early Riser is a challenging read, but ultimately a worthwhile one, and a worthy addition to the Fforde oeuvre.

Recommended books: Passage by Connie Willis.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde


AuthorJasper Fforde
TitleShades of Grey
Narrator: John Lee
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2009)
Summary/Review:

I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde’s imaginative works, but a few years ago when I attempted to read Shades of Grey, I couldn’t finish it.  But due to my ffandom, I figured it would be worth giving the book another try as an audiobook.  The story takes place in a future dystopian society where people are sorted into castes based on their ability to perceive colors.  So, the protagonist of the story Eddie Russet is classified as a Red because he has the ability to see that color.  The concept is hard for me to grasp, and a lot of the novel, especially the early parts seems more geared to explaining this society that telling a story. I suppose all Jasper Fforde novels are set in a dystopia of some sort, but this one seems more serious than the others.  Nevertheless, I say it was worth getting through to the end of this book this time as the story definitely picks up in the second half of the book.  While not as great as Thursday Next or The Last Dragonslayer, I do look forward to reading (or listening to) future installments of this series.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde


AuthorJasper Fforde
TitleThe Eye of Zoltar
Publication Info: HMH Books for Young Readers (2014)
ISBN: 0547738498
Previous books in the Chronicles of Kazam:

Summary/Review:

This is the third book in Fforde’s young adult series The Chronicles of Kazam, and the best installment so far.  Jennifer Strange, the teenage orphan tasked with managing an employment agency for sorcerers, is tasked with crossing the border out of the Kingdom of Snodd into the Cambrian Empire, a nation known for entertaining daredevil tourists (and leaving many of them dead).  Accompanying her are a ragtag bunch including a rapidly-aging wizard, a princess magically body-swapped with a handmaid, a rubberized dragon, an Australopithecus, and a ten-year old tour guide.  This book is an adventure filled with Fforde’s trademark clever wit that also works as a satire on both sword & sorcery tropes and our modern society.
Favorite Passages:

“All of us are somewhat clairvoyant; any future you can dream up, no matter how bizarre, retains the faint possibility of coming true.”

“It’s somewhat bizarre to learn that many of you think other humans are somehow different enough to be killed, when you’re all tiresomely similar in outlook, needs, and motivation, and differ only in peculiar habits, generally shaped by geographical circumstance.”

“Death cannot be avoided forever, but it can be postponed—it’s very much like doing the dishes.”

“Honor is kind of what you get when you weaponize manners, but if you’re brought up in a system where honor is valued more than life itself, it makes a lot more sense. Some. A bit.”

“I’d been an idiot to think that this journey was anything but a quest. Searches were nice and soft and cuddly and no one needed to be killed. A quest always demanded the death of a trusted friend and one or more ethical dilemmas. I’d put us all in jeopardy, and now, as likely as not, I was going to lose the one person I cared for most.”

“To have a purpose is the right of all sentient beings,” said Gabby, touching my shoulder. “To have a vitally important purpose is an honor not often bestowed.”

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde


AuthorJasper Fforde
TitleThe Song of the Quarkbeast
Publication Info: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (2011)
Summary/Review:

The second book in the Kazam series returns to Hereford where dictatorial King Snodd IV is looking to corner the market on magic.  The only person who can stop him appears to be Jennifer Strange, the orphan teenager who manages employment for a house of sorcerers.  In typical Fforde fashion, humorous and quirky events intertwine to bring this story to an entertaining resolution.  I look forward to reading more about Jennifer and her companions in future installments.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleThe Last Dragonslayer
Publication Info: London : Hodder & Stoughton, 2010.
Summary/Review:

This is the first in a series of books for young adults by the ever-so-brilliant Welsh author Jasper Fforde.  He sets his books in an alternate universe, this time a balkanized Britain the Ununited Kingdom, specifically the Kingdom of Snodd led by a cruel despot of a king.  In this world, magic is real with physical properties, but it has faded leaving many sorcerers near-powerless and only able to perform simple tasks or tricks.  Teenage orphan Jennifer Strange is tasked with finding work for a house of sorcerers called Kazam.  As the novel develops, it is revealed that Jennifer is destined to be The Last Dragonslayer, although she is not magical herself.  The problem is, she does not want to kill the dragons.  A brilliant and creative book from the mind of Fforde, it is a recommended read for teens and adults alike.

Rating: ****