Jasper Fforde - Shastrix Books

Jasper Fforde

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Early Riser

Early Riser

Jasper Fforde

15th December 2018

Jasper Fforde’s new novel, seemingly a stand-alone tale, explores the question “What if humans hibernated?” through an exploration of a complex world from the point of view of a young novice who is enlisted to remain awake through the winter to help look after society during the frozen months.

There’s a lot of reminiscences of Fforde’s previous novels - the dystopia is milder than in Shades of Grey, and the fantasy milder than in the Dragonslayer series, but all have a common feel and this makes the narrative a comfortable one to slip into.

The characters are fascinating and compelling, with some very novel ideas added into the mix. The world is incredibly rich and I love how much thought Fforde has clearly put into exploring how a society might have evolved differently given a seemingly small change in its starting conditions.

Shades of Grey remains my favourite Fforde novel, but this makes its way into second place. I don’t know why everyone isn’t reading it.

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The Eye of Zoltar

The Eye of Zoltar

Jasper Fforde

15th April 2014

The third and now penultimate book in The Last Dragonslayer series sees the return of Shandar - the greatest wizard that ever lived - which triggers Jenny and a ragtag collection of companions to head off on what is definitely not a quest if anyone's asking.

It's a fun fantasy adventure, with Fforde's usual eye for detail and sense of humour, references flying everywhere, many of which I probably missed on my first reading. It's longer than either of the first two books, but didn't feel overly so - the plot moves rapidly and it keeps the reader's attention throughout.

The book lacks an emotional core though - the peril doesn't feel real (perhaps because of the light-hearted fantasy tone) and the characters' responses generally seem too relaxed. One character I found particularly interesting grew a lot in the book, but rather than being something gradual and building it seemed to come as a rapid shift which I felt detracted from the setup.

While the conclusion is well executed, it didn't feel like a satisfactory resolution and left me frustrated that I couldn't turn the page again, rather than in the desired state of anticipation for the next book. Still very enjoyable, but not quite at the top of Fforde's output.

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The Woman Who Died a Lot

The Woman Who Died a Lot

Jasper Fforde

16th July 2012

Book seven in the Thursday Next series once again takes the random-fantasy/crime/met-fiction in a different direction. Thursday has a new job with new responsibilities, and is struggling with her children, one of whom doesn't exist.

As usual with Jasper Fforde's writing it's a fantastic mish-mash of thrilling adventure and literary puns. I don't know whether they've toned down a bit or my own experience has widened, but I felt that the references were more approachable than in some of the earlier novels where I knew I was missing most of them.

There are some excellent passages in this story, particularly the way that Fforde deals with the mindworm. The narration, from Thursday's point of view, is superb and presents an intuitive view of the world that tells the reader everything while managing not to realise things herself. This leads to the one plot hole that stands out, where she narrates things she shouldn't know.

I really love Jasper Fforde's novels and can't get enough of them. Reading 'The Woman Who Died a Lot' has encouraged me to go back and re-read the earlier Thursday novels. A definite must-read series for anyone who loves a bit of slightly-surreal comic fantasy.

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The Song of the Quarkbeast

The Song of the Quarkbeast

Jasper Fforde

7th November 2011

The sequel to The Last Dragonslayer just lives up to the promise of its predecessor. Jennifer Strange, acting manager of Kazaam - a magic company - is getting ready to rebuild Hereford's history bridge, but iMagic, their closest competitor, have something different planned.

The book had, I felt, a relatively weak opening. Fforde's recent works, particularly Shades of Grey and The Last Dragonslayer, have been masterpieces, and to be honest this felt like a bit of a let down after those. However once some of the set up had been passed, the pace picked up and Fforde's unique surrealism began to show itself again and for the second half the novel was easily the equal of its predecessor.

The nature of the story though does make it feel more of a children's novel, though perhaps that is by design. The first book in this series appealed to me as an adult reader, in that it dealt with some weightier themes which this book barely brushes against.

Overall though certainly another good book from Fforde and I will continue to look forward to his works with a sense of glee. His mastery of the English language has to be up there with the greats of surreal and humorous writing.

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing

One of Our Thursdays is Missing

Jasper Fforde

26th February 2011

The sixth book in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series is the best yet and proves once again that he has one of the top imaginations and sharpest minds of the current generation of authors. This time, Thursday is missing, and the novel is told from the perspective of her literary counterpart in the bookworld, the written Thursday Next - it might be worth having read the first five books to fully understand.

This makes for a fantastic change, as although she is the same character she's also very different and suffers from a number of flaws that she's all too aware of, including being far too nice to take the place of the real Thursday. It also allows for an influx of new bookworld characters to assist her, including a robotic butler with an emotional eyebrow, and Mrs Malaprop, whose words I found initially got in the way of the narrative's flow but soon became one of the top pieces of comedy.

The best thing about a Fforde book is that it makes you think. So many things in novels are so absurd that we never notice, and he uses this meta-fictional point of view to point out some of these and come up with surprisingly rational explanations. It's a really detailed and surprising world that he's invented and the remaining in this book makes it even better for the character to explore.

The story is really a mystery, and being in the bookworld everything is a clue no matter how obscure it seems. Definitely one that will require a re-read to pick up more about what's going on. Another smashing read from an author who is one of my favourites.

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The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer

Jasper Fforde

4th November 2010

Jasper Fforde's latest novel tells the story of Jennifer Strange, fifteen-year-old acting manager of a wizard employment agency, which is suffering due to lack of magic. When the death of the last of the dragons is predicted, it is to her that people come looking for ways to profit.

Fforde's writing style is easily recognisable and easy to fall back into reading. It's a comfortable and friendly read that reminds me of the pleasure I've received from his previous works. His writing gets better and better, this and Shades of Grey demonstrating a master at work.

While it is technically a children's novel, this book has none of the patronising and simplistic nature of many examples of the genre. The world Fforde constructs is just as detailed, if a little less complex, than in his other novels, with a rich range of characters, animals and alternative history. The book will appeal just as much to adults as to children - especially with the dragonhide texture of the dust jacket!

I actually find that I have no criticism to make. The story does contain morals, the classic hallmark of the children's book, but Fforde has no qualms in bending them when necessary to make his fantastical setting seem real. I'm very glad that there is plenty of opening for a sequel to be very different.

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Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey

Jasper Fforde

3rd May 2010

I honestly can't think what to say about Shades of Grey. It's a fantastic book - deeper and much more cerebral than I had been expecting. I had thought it would be something more of a comedy romp, a little more like Fforde's previous Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. Instead it's a modern masterpiece that I really hope becomes this half-century's equivalent to 1984.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world some 700 years in the future, so long after the 'Something that Happened' that no one can remember what made the world this way. Your social status is decided by colour - not of your skin, but how much, and which colour you can see. The Purples at the top of the pile down to the Reds at the bottom, and the Grey slave class that sit below the lot. Lives are lived by a set of arcane rules that no one understand, but everyone follows religiously. Until Eddie Russet has an idea to improve the efficiency of the lunch queue and his life changes beyond recognition.

It's quite frustrating in a way, as we see the world through Eddie's eyes (red) and so only learn things which he sees it fit to tell us. Usually that is not stuff about the world, as it is written 'in universe', so the narration assumes you know how the world is. As such there are lots of things you don't discover until it becomes relevant to the plot. On the other hand though this is a genius method for making want to keep turning pages to find out more, and it enables surprise to follow surprise. There are things that seem so obvious now that it seems unbelievable that I didn't see them coming.

Fforde has definitely surpassed his previous work with this one. Deep and meaningful while full of satire and humour, it's the most thought provoking novel I've read for a long time if ever. I can only hope that its sequels live up to its legacy.

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Unreviewed books

First Among Sequels
Lost in a Good Book
Something Rotten
The Big Over Easy
The Eyre Affair
The Fourth Bear
The Well of Lost Plots

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