If you should pick you favorite work from the the genre comical-literary-fantasy-science-fiction my guess is that you would choose Jasper Fforde’s series about literary detective Thursday Next.
Uh, whats that? The only work in that genre? Well yes, but even so.
Jasper Fforde (yes i know about the extra “f”, but he’s British so what can you do?) published the first book in the series in 2001, and since then the book count has reached seven. Allegedly the fist book, The Eyre Affair, received 76 rejections before it finally was accepted for publication. This sets the now scientifically proven ratio between smart publishers and not-so-smart publishers at about 1:76.
The currently last book in the series came in 2012, and I often wake up screaming in the middle of the night after nightmares where it turns out that it really is the last. But Jasper wouldn’t do that to me, right……I mean……not to me!?
What’s it all about?
So what is this revelation of a series all about?
Its about Thursday Next. She is a war veteran turned police officer . So far so good, a setting that could have been taken from a Elizabeth George novel, if you pack it with a lot of social criticism of course. But the setting contains a couple of more unusual aspects, unusual being a word used in its widest sense possible here. For one thing, even though the story is set in modern day Britain, it is a Britain at war, at war with Russia no less. And not just any war, the two proud countries are still fighting the Crimean war, a war that was supposed to have ended in 1853. Having reached a stalemate there is not much actual fighting going on, but relations are far from good between the two nations.
Other things that may strike you as a tiny bit odd is the presence of dodos and neanderthals, both results of a creative, if somewhat ethically questionable, use of cloning techniques. So while other fictional detectives may own a dog, a cat or even a parrot, our heroine owns her very own dodo named Pickwick. This being a Dodo 1.0 it has some flaws, flaws that have been genetically engineered out in later dodo versions, but all in all it’s a perfectly fine dodo.
So, back to the storyline. As I wrote earlier, Thursday is a police officer, but not your ordinary police officer. She works for SpecOps 27, and as you all know, this is the Special Operation agency responsible for literary crime, also known as LiteraTecs. What? You didn’t know that? Well, then I guess you don’t know that SpecOps 12 is called the Chronoguard an is the agency handling time related crimes either? What do they teach kids in school today?
Anyway, Thursday Next work for for LiteraTecs unit and at the start of the series she i stationed in London and seeing that you didn’t know about SpecsOp, I guess I have to tell you that London is the capitol of Britain.
We meet Thursday as she is hunting wanted terrorist Acheron Hades who, as it turns out, is also her old university professor. This mission is really way over her pay-grade but since there exists no pictures of Hades, she is the only one capable of recognizing him.
The operations goes sour, very very sour. Almost the entire team is wiped out, Thursday being the sole survivor and that just thanks to a copy of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre that she happen to have in her pocket and which stopped a bullet from ending this book really prematurely. Surviving, but badly injured, Thursday is saved by a mysterious stranger that later turns out to be Edward Rochester, a fictional character from, yes you guessed it, Jane Eyre.
Waking up in hospital Next is told that Hades escaped but were later killed in a car accident as he was making good his escape. Hearing this she draws a relived breath and settles back in her bed, only to receive a visit from a future version of herself, telling her that Hades is not dead and that she needs to haul her ass over to her old hometown of Swindon.
At the same time as all this happens Goliath, a gigantic cooperation that controls far more of the governing of Britain than it should, have just announced that they have developed a new super weapon. The weapon, called The STONK, is a plasma rifle said to be be able to take out a tanks with one blast and promises to end the Crimean war in a day as the Russians have nothing that compares with this. This announcement creates a great patriotic upswing and the whole country is preparing for the already set day when The STONK will be presented to the public.
But, as with all weapons, The STONK may not be such a elegant solution as is at first seems.
Into the literary world
Back on her feet again Thursday applies and get approval for a transfer to the LiteraTecs branch in Swindon. Here we meet several members of her family, most notably her uncle Mycroft and aunt Polly, both being brilliant, albeit rather unconventional, scientists. Their latest invention, a device called The Prose Portal, makes it possible for people to enter works of fiction and interact with the story and characters there. As it turns out, Thursday already possess the ability to literally(!) enter the world of literature., an ability that will prove quite handy in the times to come.
Acheron Hades then makes a reappearance, being a classical archenemy an all, stealing the Prose Portal and kidnapping Mycroft and Polly. He then goes on to hold the world for ransom, threatening to drastically alter the story in several of the worlds most famous literary works if he is not given what he wants. Hunting for Hades Thursday soon finds herself working with a mysterious Goliath operative with the endearing name of Jack Schitt. Searching for Hades and at the same time trying to discover what lies behind Goliath’s strange interest in the Prose Portal, takes Thursday deep into the very real world of fiction. In the first book the main book that is of course Jane Eyre, but as the series progress you will follow the literary detective into works of mostly any genre, from Shakespeare to tacky science fiction.
My favorite is of course Miss Havisham from Dicken’s Great Expectations.
“So should I read it?” I hear you ask…
Excuse me? Haven’t you read anything of the stuff I have written above? We are talking dodos here! And a whole world of real living fictional characters. Off course you should read it!
Ok, I will try to be more eloquent in my praise. First I must admit that the Thursday Next series may not be for anyone. If you are a fantasy purist, you know, those that hail Simmarillion as Tolkiens best work, then it may not strike your fancy. But if you love a good story combined with humor and well desribed believable characters, then this is for you. If you like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett chances are good that you will love Jasper Fforde.
Even though Fforde’s novels are filled with literary references you don’t need to be a bookworm to enjoy them. They are so well written that even if you have never read a book, in fact, even if you are illiterate you will love them…..I mean…..well…..you know what I mean!
So, don’t take life so serious, have fun and run out and buy these books!
PS: I almost forgot to mention that Mr. Fforde may have the coolest webpage out there!
Some facts about the author:
- The Eyre Affair (2001)
- Lost in a Good Book (2002)
- The Well of Lost Plots (2003)
- Something Rotten (2004)
- First Among Sequels (2007)
- One of our Thursdays is Missing (2011)
- The Woman Who Died a Lot (2012)
Shades of Grey 1: The Road to High Saffron (2009)
- The Big Over Easy (2005)
- The Fourth Bear (2006)
- The Last Dragonslayer (2010)
- The Song of the Quarkbeast (2012)
- The Last Dragonslayer III: The Eye of Zoltar (2014)