Back on form (well, nearly)

So I finally got round to reading Jasper Fforde's latest in the Thursday Next series The woman who died a lot. I'm a fan of Thursday Next (and Jasper Fforde in general), but had reservations about the last two novels in the series First among sequels and One of our Thursdays is missing. The woman who died a lot marks, I think, a return to form but I still have some reservations.

In Fforde's latest Next is unable to access the Bookworld following an assassination attempt in an earlier novel. So the big chunk of Thursday Next novels that fans love is immediately closed to them. Also missing are most of your favourite characters - no Mycroft or Polly, no Mum and Dad, and disappointingly no Sprocket or Braxton Hicks. The novel opens with Next in a new job working as a librarian. There are lots of librarian jokes, and a rather nice stab at government attempts to close down British libraries. Meanwhile odd things are going on with seemingly unimportant antiquarian texts being destroyed, but even this pales into insignificance when the Chrono-Guard are dismantled, and it looks as though Thursday's son is about to spend a very long time inside....

The novel starts very slowly. In fact for 2/3 of it, I wasn't really too drawn into the tale. There were some good jokes about religion and libraries, a bit more about time-travel (something that had been rather lacking from earlier novels in the series), but overall the novel seemed rather dull in comparison to some of the earlier tales. But then it took off. Fforde was excellent at building towards a climax, and starting to create a new story-related world - The Dark Reading Matter, which has sort of the same relationship to the Book World as Heaven/Purgatory/Hell has to Earth. 

I spent 2/3 of the novel thinking "this is ok, but how the heck am I going to review it?", and the last 1/3 thinking "Wow, I can see where he's going with this and it's going to be really good". For a lesson in how to write one hell of an extended cliffhanger so your fans can't wait for the next installment, this is about as good as it gets. As with the previous two novels this wouldn't be the best place to start the series. Fforde's books really do need to be read in sequence to be comprehensible, but for any fan this marks the start of a return to form. Roll on Thursday Next 8.


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