Posts Tagged ‘Jasper Fforde’

Adventures in Bookland: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Writing on a day in February when the temperature looks set to reach 18 degrees Centigrade and the sky is a bowl of blue unflicked with a single blob of white, winter seems a long way away. In Jasper Fforde’s new book, Early Riser, winter is a brute: a season of such ferocity that humans have evolved the capacity to hibernate to escape its rigours. It’s a fascinating idea, but one that is also the key weakness of the book. Early Riser has all Fforde’s usual comic genius, spinning word play and world play out of this central conceit, but ultimately the book fails because it’s impossible to construct a world sufficiently similar to our own that Fforde can poke fun at contemporary foibles while still having almost everybody asleep for three months during the arctic winter in Wales. It just doesn’t work. The world, trembling on the brink of toppling into Snowball Earth, with humans that hibernate, would be something completely different, not the hybrid that Fforde creates here. That aside, the story is funny, tense and quite affecting. But where Fforde’s Thursday Next novels and Nursery Crime novels convincingly create worlds that are different yet closely related to our own, this one doesn’t.


Adventures in Bookland: The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
The Fourth Bear

The Fourth Bear

‘Hm,’ says Jasper Fforde, ‘I’ve set my world up, I’ve introduced my main characters, I’ve got my themes… I know, let’s have some fun.’

And my goodness me, fun he has – as do we, the readers. This is quite, quite wonderful – reaching a crescendo of comic invention allied to an excellent crime fiction plot: it’s no use going all metafiction if you ignore the basics (Stephen King, I’m looking at you and the end of the Dark Tower series).

Jack Spratt, Mary Mary, Ashley the Alien are all back and facing the psychopathic Gingerbreadman (‘Is he a biscuit or a cake?’ On this question rides all). It’s wonderful seeing an author at the height of his powers really letting rip – my only question is when is the third volume going to come out?

Adventures in Bookland: The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015
The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easy

It’s not easy being an egg – particularly one that’s nearly five foot tall, with arms, legs, a predilection for sitting on walls and a fondness for alcohol. So, it’s not so surprising when Humpty Dumpty has his great fall – case closed, you’d have thought, for Inspector Jack Spratt of Berkshire’s crack (because that’s about all the space they have) Nursery Crime Division. But Inspector Spratt – who definitely doesn’t eat any fat – smells something rotten, something eggy, and it’s not Humpty…

Quite wonderful. I’ve been reading Jasper Fforde since the first of his Thursday Next novels came out and find him, along with Philip Reeve, the most consistently enjoyable and inventive writer working today, but I think he outdoes himself with the Nursery Crime books. If there’s any criticism I have of the Thursday Next books it is that I find Thursday herself a slightly bland heroine, but the characterisation of Jack Spratt works really well here and, if anything, improves in the next book in the series.

So, if you haven’t already, visit Reading and spend some time with nursery rhymes.

Adventures in Bookland: The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
The Eye of Zoltar

The Eye of Zoltar

The Fforde Invention Meter, having crept towards the red line in the first two books in the series, goes into the red, inspiration, zone. As ever, the joy is in the details, from reality grades I to IV, to the wild beasts of Wales, rather than the characterisation (Jennifer Strange is about as close to perfection as anyone outside the hero of a Dean Koontz novel can come). It’s just as well, really, that characterisation isn’t Fforde’s strong point, as this means I didn’t get too upset when some characters met unexpectedly terminal ends (the sort of ends which suggests they really really really won’t be coming back in the fourth and final book).

Adventures in Bookland: The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
The Song of the Quarkbeast

The Song of the Quarkbeast

What is the song of an imaginary creature? Admittedly, the creature in question is a (metaphorical) mixture of velociraptor, knife block (with the knives all sticking blade up) and labrador, so not the most obvious candidate for song, but the question stands. Well, it turns out, rather than the sparking clash of metal, or the grind of tooth on bone, the song of the Quarkbeast is enchanting: yearning, lonely, and ever reaching towards a barely glimpsed and often receding, yet certainly there, consummation. Unfortunately, in a curious nod towards MAD (mutually assured destruction/desire) the Quarkbeast sings only when its twin approaches, and union with said anti-twin will bring absolute destruction, as when an electron and positron meet.

This is unfortunate for the Quarkbeast. It’s also unfortunate for anyone else within a mile or two. But it’s good for the reader. Jasper Fforde’s invention drive, which was revving nicely in the first volume of the series without getting much second gear, begins to pick up speed in this second book of The Chronicles of Kazam. And, after all, this is what we read Fforde for: invention, imagination, wordplay and dreadful puns (not so much character development). As with Thursday Next, where the Fforde invention drive (or FID for short) took until the second or third volume in the series to really kick into overdrive, so with The Chronicles of Kazam: after a few jerks and shudders in the first book, the story is really beginning to rev up nicely here and I anticipate the third and fourth will explode into the inventosphere. Three and a half stars for this one and anticipating four for the next.

Adventures in Bookland: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015
The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer

In honour of the wonderful Jasper Fforde, and in particular his Thursday Next novels where the eponymous heroine enters Bookworld to save it from various menaces and perils, I’ve renamed the previously rather boring ‘book review’ section of my blog, ‘Adventures in Bookland’. And, in truth, that’s a far better title, for after all, when we read a book we do go on an adventure. If it’s a non-fiction book, then there will be intellectual adventure to go, hopefully, with narrative excitement and verbal fizz; if it’s a story, then, hopefully, there will be dragons!

And, yes, you’ve guessed it (the title does rather give it away), Jasper Fforde does give us dragons, or rather one (with a couple of slither ons at the end). He also gives us a version of Britain, the Ununited Kingdom, split into a myriad little principalities, rather as if GK Chesterton had sat down (on a sturdy, reinforced chair!) and divided the country up on Distributist lines. I particularly enjoyed the Troll Wall, in the far North, built to keep out what it says in its name – no doubt many Westminster politicians, looking with dismay at what is happening north of the border in this 2015 election year, would feel the same.

But now, enjoyable though The Last Dragonslayer is, can I ask a question. When was the last time we had, in books, a proper, fire breathing, maiden eating, gold hoarding, evil serpent? I know there’s been Smaug in the recent Hobbit films, but they hark back to Tolkien (to a greater or lesser extent!). But, since Smaug, have there been any properly evil worms? Thinking back over the last, er, rather too long, but let’s say forty years or so, I can remember Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, the Luckdragon of The Neverending Story, Gordon Dickson’s Dragon Knight stories, the aerial division of the armies in a modified Napoleonic war in the Temeraire series, and the dragons in George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (which I’ve not read or watched, but have been unable to avoid). At worst, these dragons can be called dangerous, but most are positively cuddly (or, at least, as cuddly as fire-breathing beasts with scales can reasonably be expected to be).

Now, I understand that authors might want to play with the stereotype, to break it down and try it from a new angle, but really, don’t you think we have a whole new stereotype here? Now, dragons are always, always, misunderstood creatures, cruelly picked on by a humanity fearful of ‘the other’. Indeed, it’s become such a stereotype that the reward of the unexpected awaits the first writer to make the dragon back into what it was, traditionally: cold, calculating and thoroughly, completely evil.

There, I’ve given you the idea, free and gratis. Now get out there and write it. I, for one, will read it, and, on this day of St George, cheer the dragonslayer!