Luckily for me – although it didn’t seem so at the time, I didn’t manage to finish Early Riser in time for it to make last week’s WiB. I had 50 pages to go on the Sunday night and ended up finishing it on Monday morning. This made it eligible for this week’s BotW and meant that I could write this nice and early before the last minute madness descended ahead of my departure for DC. Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be in the US and starting work – but I’m writing this a week earlier with a to-do list the length of my arm. However I’m fairly confident that nothing else I finish this week will pip this to the post – and if anything does run it close I’m sure I’ll manage to write about it at some point!
Early Riser is the latest novel from Jasper Fforde and his first new book in four years – and his first new adult novel in six years. It’s a standalone novel and it’s in a different alternative universe to his other work too. I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde – I’ve read most of his books but I think that the long hiatus between books means that I’ve never had a chance to properly write about him here because I glommed on pretty much everything he has written before I started writing this. Anyway, to the plot:
Charlie Worthing is about to start his first season as a Winter Consul. Every year, the human population hibernates for four months to escape the bitterly cold weather. But some brave souls are needed to protect the sleeping – and Charlie has volunteered to be one of them. To stay awake during the winter means you need to be very committed – but also a little bit mad as Charlie soon discovers. One of his first tasks is investigating an outbreak of viral dreams – where people are having the same dream right down to the little details. And then the people who’ve had the dream start dying. And then Charlie starts having the dream – and bits of it seem to be coming true. Is it just winter narcosis – or is soething more sinister going on. Charlie sets out to find out the truth – but he’ll need to brave Villains and Nightwalkers and the seemingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk to do it.
If you’ve read and Jasper Fforde before you’ll know that his thing is creating bonkers parallel universes to our own and then just dropping you straight into them and leaving you to work out what’s going on. In the Thursday Next series is a world where the Crimean War never ended, where literature is venerated and where – if you have the right skills – you can actually get inside a book and wander around the story. In Early Riser he does the same thing. After a lovely diagram of a Dormitorium opposite the title page, you find yourself on a train with a dead woman who is playing the bouzouki. And it only gets weirder. This was probably the slowest starting of Fforde’s books for me – but that might be because I started reading it as an egalley (from NetGalley) which had all the footnotes out of sync with the pages – and boy do you need the footnotes at the start to help you get your head around the new world that you’ve found yourself in. But after I’d bought myself an actual copy of the book* everything got a lot easier and started to make more sense.
And it is a rollicking good adventure. There are lots of twists and turns and I really didn’t see many/any of them coming. Charlie is an engaging accidental hero and you sympathise with him as he bumbles his way through his first winter, running into complications and obstacles at every turn. I really like the worlds that Jasper Fforde creates – I don’t know where his ideas come from but they’re so clever and subversive. If you had pitched this to me before I’d read any of his stuff I would have chalked it up as not for me. But I trust him having read and loved the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series and so was prepared to take the leap into this with him. I’m so glad I did – and I hope lots of other people are reading it too.
In the author’s note at the end of the book, he thanks readers’ patience for sticking with him in the long gap and says he hopes it won’t be such a big gap to the next book. I may hate waiting, but I’ll gladly wait if we get books like this at the end of it. I just hope that the next one is the eighth Thursday Next book…
Early Riser is out now in hardback and on Kindle and Kobo if you’re in the UK. I’ve seen copies in all the proper bookshops – Foyles Charing Cross have several display piles of it – so you should be able to lay your hands on it fairly easily. It’s due for release in the US on February 12th 2019 – and should be available to preorder at your bookseller of choice – there are some handy links on Jasper Fforde’s website to help you whether you’re in the UK or in the US.
*I went to Foyles during a lunchbreak one of my weekend working days in August. I was meant to be just having a look around, but they’d had a signing with Jasper Fforde a week or two earlier and they had one signed copy left – among piles of unsigned ones on various displays. I took it as a sign that I should buy it for myself.
Bonus Picture: My Dormitorium postcard that came with my hardcover!