I've been interested in reading Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next sequels since Jenny and I co-reviewed The Eyre Affair back in May. But I could never seem to get my hands on the next one. So when I was recently in the library and found all of them together, I had to snatch them up. Guess what I've been doing for the last month?
So far Fforde has written four additional books about Thursday Next. Some have more action and mystery than the others, but they are all creative and fun to read. Lost in a Good Book begins with Thursday enjoying marriage to Landen Parke-Laine (her reconciled love from The Eyre Affair), and the revelation that she is newly pregnant. When the Goliath Corporation eradicates Landen in order to blackmail Thursday into releasing their agent Jack Schitt from Poe's The Raven (where he was imprisoned during The Eyre Affair), Thursday begins to search for a way to get back into fiction again. She enters the BookWorld and joins Jurisfiction -- the organization that maintains order within fiction -- as an apprentice to the one and only Miss Havisham. In the meantime she faces another enemy, Acheron Hades' sister Aornis, saves the world from being turned into mysterious pink goo, and releases Jack Schitt only to be double-crossed by Goliath and still left husbandless.
In The Well of Lost Plots, Thursday decides to take refuge away from Goliath in the BookWorld, where she continues her Jurisfiction training and awaits the birth of her baby. There is less action in the first half of this book as she discovers all the oddities of the BookWorld. Fforde's imagination is limitless and it's sometimes hard to keep straight all the aspects of the world of fiction. But it rarely felt tedious and his wit kept things interesting even when the action was a little slow. Thursday faces some Aornis-imposed personal struggles with Landen's eradication, but is helped through them by Granny Next -- a delightful character who first appears in Lost in a Good Book. The second half gets more interesting as Thursday uncovers a greedy plot that would end up destroying libraries all over the world, and has to use her own wit and BookWorld connections to put an end to it. In the end she is appointed Bellman, the head of Jurisfiction.
Something Rotten begins over two years later. Thursday now has a 2-year-old son, Friday, and is getting tired of the BookWorld and returns home to Swindon. Goliath is trying to become a religion and promises to uneradicate Landen in exchange for her forgiveness, a process that doesn't quite go through without a hitch. In the meantime, a fictional character is trying to take over the world beginning by establishing himself as England's tyrant, Hamlet has undergone a hostile takeover and is now The Merry Wives of Elsinore and only an illegally cloned Shakespeare can possibly sort out the mess, a famous assassin is trying to kill Thursday, and Thursday has to save the world by leading the Swindon Mallets professional croquet team to an unlikely victory in the SuperHoop. Despite a few minor inconsistencies in the text, this was probably my favorite of the sequels. There are some great revelations and surprises, lots of loose ends tied up, and more action with the many subplots involved. The series could have easily ended very satisfyingly with Something Rotten.
But it didn't. First Among Sequels continues the story -- a little unnecessarily if you ask me. But it's still fun and is a little bit of a departure from the previous ones because it narrows the gap between the imaginary literary sci-fi world that Fforde has created (where something like SpecOps and the ChronoGuard could exist in the first place) and the real world that we live in. It takes place fourteen years later with Thursday in her early 50's, SpecOps disbanded, and interest in books falling in place of reality TV shows like "Whose Life Support Do We Switch Off?" Thursday is continuing to work in both literary detectives and Jurisfiction, albeit on the sly since she was supposed to have given both up years ago. As a mother, she faces the daunting task of trying to motivate lazy sixteen-year-old Friday who is resisting his destiny of joining the ChronoGuard. In the fictional world she meets with frustration and opposition from her own fictional counterparts in the badly written Thursday Next series. And in both worlds, she has to fight a movement to eliminate the classics and turn them into reality book shows where the readers get to vote off characters and decide where the plot will go. The ending is definitely left open for another book, so we'll have to wait and see where Fforde takes it next.
Overall, this was the most fun I've had reading a series in a long time. Fforde seems to know just how much he can use his jokes before they start to get stale, and moves on to something fresh and interesting before we get tired of them. I admire an author who can take his cleverness to new heights with each book, and Fforde succeeds in that. Also, it seems like usually sequels incorporate more sex, violence, and bad language than the original, but this wasn't the case with the Thursday Next sequels. In fact, if anything the language was less strong than the first and that is a great selling point to me. One thing the sequels lacked was a really strong villain. Acheron Hades was a great villain in the The Eyre Affair, but there's no one of his caliber in the other books. I think that makes them suffer a bit as mysteries (which is where they are catalogued), but they are still so fun to read that if you can get over that you'll still enjoy them.