The Short Version: The BookWorld has been remade… and as a result, they’re on the brink of all-out war between Racy Novel and Women’s Fiction. The real Thursday Next is missing – maybe even dead – and so it’s up to the literary Thursday (the peace-loving hippie one) to step in. Or is it really the real Thursday, gone into deep-cover after the assassination attempt? Who’d be ballsy enough to kill Thursday, anyway? Learning to be one’s creator is difficult work, especially when you can barely keep your own book series in order…
The Review: I realized only after the book came out two weeks ago that it has been four years since First Among Sequels. How I’ve gone so long without Ms. Next, I’ll never know. I mean, sure, there’ve been Nursery Crime books and the first(?) Shades of Grey novel – but there’s nothing like a little Thursday Next in one’s life. The debate that raged, of course, was which edition to buy. Those of you who know me/follow the covers of this blog well are aware of my propensity to purchase books for the prettiest cover. And that British covers are almost always better than American ones. But then I saw the cover for TN-6 (I won’t write out the whole title, it’s too long) at Barnes & Noble and I was smitten. Finally, a new cover for a series that deserves something witty and funny. Better yet, Thomas Allen would be rejacketing the entire series (hopefully in hardcover………) over the next few months. I couldn’t hold out for the cool-but-suddenly-not-as-cool-as-I’d-thought-before British cover – I needed it.
The sad news is that it isn’t Thursday who is back. It is, as The Short Version mentioned, the BookWorld Thursday. The nice one, from the book that got destroyed because it was too boring. Not the one who sleeps around, drinks, kills, etc. That one, as I remember, is erased as well. I think. TN-5 was four years ago, give me a break. Anyway, this gave Fforde an opportunity to jump back into the series with something of a fresh start. He reworks the BookWorld entirely, putting it onto a map (the inside of a sphere – good choice) instead of it just existing in The Great Library. Most of our friends make an appearance at some point – Bradshaw and Zhark are there, the characters from Thursday’s life (although Landen is the only real one who gets any stage time. oh, and the kids), the Jurisfiction crowd, even Jack Schitt (not his real name! spoiler!). There’s no Hamlet, none of the Hades clan, no Cheshire Cat – but these were all pretty acceptable losses. We got Sprockett instead, the mechanical butler, and a sassy dodo playing Pickwick. An acceptable trade, for this book.
I could sense a revitalization in Fforde’s writing as he explored this completely-new old world for the second-first time, as it were. The rules (basic fundamental ones, anyway) haven’t changed, but the board on which to play with them has. People don’t jump from book to book anymore – you can literally walk between books, as they exist on a plane now. Strange and funny to see the experience of meeting the new neighbors, when the new neighbors include a king and queen and full sword&sorcery setting plopped next door. As a result, there’s a pace and a sprightliness to the novel that made it feel far shorter than 370ish pages.
I have to admit, however – I missed the real Thursday. I missed the RealWorld and the plots that came out of it. I missed the sense of danger that always seemed to follow Thursday’s adventures. For some reason, there was less danger here – perhaps because characters kept talking about how (in the BookWorld) things always follow a prescribed plan and I knew, simply knew, that Thursday wasn’t dead. And I wanted to find her. The older Thursday, the one we know from so many adventures. The literary Thursday has come into her own – but she’ll never quite be the same thing. She accepts that, apparently – but I hope this was a one-time diversion for Mr. Fforde, especially if there are really only two books left in the Octology. I mean, we all know Thursday eventually has to become Granny Next and I certainly don’t want to see a novel of her as a batty old lady doing batty old lady things (even written in Fforde’s hilarious stylings), so in that situation I’d accept the return of the fictional (and always younger) Thursday. But this is, I suppose, irrelevant until the next book arrives.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Despite what misgivings I had, the pace and the wealth of humor (ask anyone who saw me reading this book in public… or at The Public – I legitimately laughed aloud in awkward and embarrassing ways more often than I would with any other book. The hazards of reading Thursday Next and being a book nerd. And being in public. Anyway….) kept the whole thing rolling along. Most of all, it was a welcome return and revitalization of my favorite literary heroine (sorry, Alexia and Sookie and Cassie Maddox and anyone else who might be offended). Fforde can always be counted on for at least a good read and this time he delivered a great one. And I freaking love that cover!