Tuesday, April 20, 2010

First Among Sequels (Thursday Next, 5) by Jasper Fforde

Posted by Simcha 6:49 PM, under | 2 comments

For me, reading a Thursday Next novel is like getting together with a good friend. Since I discovered this series last year, Thursday has become one of my favorite book characters; someone who I enjoy spending time with regardless of my opinion of the book itself (though I usually really like the books too). So it was a bit odd that I had allowed First Among Sequels to sit on my shelf unread for two months after finishing the previous book, Something Rotten. But I had enjoyed Something Rotten so much that I was concerned I'd be let down by First Among Sequels, so I had taken my time getting around to it. Though once I did finally start reading it, I was reminded once again of why Jasper Fforde in one of my favorite authors.

It’s been fourteen years since the events of the last book, including Thursday’s prevention of the Armageddon, the return of Landen and the final defeat of Goliath. Since then, the SpecOps division has been disbanded and Thursday has been employed by Acme Carpets, along with a few of her previous co-workers. But what most people aren’t aware of is that Acme Carpets is also a front for the old SpecOps division, now working undercover. Not even Landen knows about Thursday’s secret life, including her continued activities in the Book World, though she keeps meaning to tell him about it…someday.

Now thing are beginning to heat up in both the Bookworld and the Real World as the government attempts to find a solution for the high levels of Stupidity Surplus and the Bookworld is in search of a solution for falling readership. Thursday’s personal life is also complicated by the reappearance of certain enemies from her past as well as the pressure that is now being put on her by the ChronoGuard (the time-travel division) regarding sixteen year old Friday, who shows no sign of becoming the leader he is someday meant to be.

These are really just a few of the many different story-lines that take place in First Among Sequels, most of which won’t make any sense outside of the context of the book. But what particularly amazes me about Jasper Fforde is how he come up with the most creative and crazy ideas and somehow presents them in a way that makes them seem logical. For example, in this conversation between Thursday and a member of the ChronoGuard, Thursday discovers that time travel, as well as other inventions, are being used before they have even been invented.

    ‘Time travel has yet to be invented and…it’s not likely to be.’ 
    ‘Wait, wait,’ I said, trying to get this latest piece of information into my head, ‘I know the whole time travel things makes very little logical sense, but you muse have machines to enable you to move through time, right?’ ‘
    Of course- but we’ve no idea how they work, who built them or when. We’ve been running the entire industry on something we call “Retro-deficit-engineering.” We use the technology now, safe in the assumption that it will be invented in the future. We did the same things with the Gravitube in the fifties and the microchip ten years ago- neither of them actually gets invented for over ten thousand years, but it helps us more to have them now.’ 
    ‘Let me get this right,’ I said slowly, ‘you’re using technology you don’t have-like me overspending on my credit card.’

And in this situation, Thursday is approached by an alternate version of her son, Friday, who is trying to convince Thursday to let him take the current Friday’s place, because the current Friday is not shaping up as he is meant to. (got it?)

    “It’s Friday. The other Friday. We’ve got three and a half days to the end of time. Does it seriously look like he’s going to join the ChronoGuards?’ 
    ‘It’s possible.’ 
    ‘We’re fast running out of options. My Director General older self is still absent at the end of time so I had a word with Bendix and he suggested we try…replacement.’ 
    ‘What do you mean?’ 
    ‘That your Friday is removed and I take his place.’ 
    ‘Define “removed”?’ 
    Friday scratched his head. 
    ‘We’ve run several timestream models and it looks good. I’m precisely the same age as him, and I’m what he would be like if he hadn’t gone down the bone-idle route. If “replacement” isn’t a good word for you, why not think of it as just rectifying a small error in the Standard History Eventline.’ 
    ‘Let me get this straight,’ I said, ‘you want to murder my son and replace him with yourself? I only met you ten minutes ago.’ 
    ‘I’m your son, Mum. Every memory, good or bad, is as much part of me as it is of the Friday at home. You want me to prove it?….I can speak Courier Bold, Lorem Ipsum and even unpeel a banana with my feet- want me to show you?’ 
    ‘No,’ I said, I accept that you’re my son. But you can't kill the other Friday- he’s done nothing wrong. I won’t let you.’ 
    ‘Mum! Which Friday would you rather have? The feckless lazy arse or me?’ 
    ‘You don’t understand what it is to be a mother, Friday. The answer’s no. I’ll take the Friday I’m dealt.’

I’m just frequently astonished at the wild and clever ideas that Fforde comes up with as well as with the fact that he manages to integrate serious subject matters into the humor, giving his stories and characters depth that is not usually found in similar books.

And while I ended up really enjoying First Among Sequels, I did have a bit of trouble getting into it in the beginning. I was a bit put off by the sixteen-year time jump as well as Thursday’s almost immediate trip to the Bookworld. Thursday’s adventures in the Bookworld aren’t my favorite parts of these books, as they feel too much like a factory tour in which I’m presented with one product after another, which are meant to dazzle me with their cleverness. This gets a bit tedious after a while and so it took me a bit of time to get through this part of the book. Though once this Bookworld section ended, the pace of the story quickly sped up and I was completely engrossed until the end, which also contained some delightful twists.

One other small issue that I have with the book is Thursday’s husband Landen, who is just a little too perfect. I think I remember him having more personality and depth in the earlier books, but here he is just the loving and understanding husband that Thursday comes home to, and not too much more. While I enjoy getting a glimpse of Thursday’s romantic side, I would have liked to see more from Landen.

While First Among Sequels didn’t blow me away quite as much as its predecessor, I still enjoyed it very much and I highly recommend it to all Thursday Next fans. And if you have not yet given this series a try then I suggest you rectify that immediately because you are really missing out


I've only read the first Thursday Next book, but I thought it was so clever! I hope to continue the series again some time... :-)

Aart: If you enjoyed The Eyre Affair then you should definitely read the rest of the series. For some reason I have a bit of a hard time getting into each of the books, in the beginning, but I end up loving them (except for Well of Lost Plots, which wasn't my favorite) If you do read them, I'd love to hear your opinion

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