Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
416 pages • £12.99
There’s something ironic about the first Thursday Next book, since Well of Lost Plots should be so, well... plotless. Especially as Fforde's intervening two books set in the Nursery Crime series have been two tightly-plotted hybrids of the author's surreal comedy with Philip Marlowe-style whodunnits. He was also showing a growing ability to create characters you could care about, rather than being just part of the gag-generating mechanics.
First Among Sequels, though, feels like a slight step backwards, as Fforde returns to the adventures of his novel-hopping heroine, as she travels through Bookworld, correcting literary infractions in everything from Jane Austen classics to pulp SF. It's 14 years since the last book, and Thursday has officially given up her Jurisfiction duties, but continues her work on the sly. This time round she has problems with her own literary counterparts (her adventures having been turned into books) and the Council of Genres coming up with knee-jerk reactions to a reduction in reading rates by turning Pride and Prejudice into a reality TV show.
Sure, the book's still bursting with great gags and amusing concepts (love the idea that someone's leaching all the comedy out of Thomas Hardy), but they all seem to be fighting for attention at the expense of a plot that barely kicks off until well past page 100, and only starts motoring in the last quarter. Time travel, stupidity surfeits, mindworms, a ship of moral dilemmas... all great stuff, all underdeveloped. The fact that no-one seems too concerned when temporal apocalypse is predicted is symptomatic of the problem with the book. It's just another gag. There are too many easy fixes, predictable twists and convenient coicidences.
Undeniably, it's still genuinely funny, fast-paced and entertaining. However, it may bewilder the newcomers, while existing Fforde fans may be left with a sense of an author treading water.