Posts Tagged ‘Jasper Fforde’

Ever dreamed of hibernating through winter? In the reality-adjacent Wales of Jasper Fforde’s  wild and crazy new novel Early Riser (Viking Penguin, digital galley), winter is so horrible that the majority of the population literally hibernates in huge, high-rise Dormitoria. Many of them are under the influence of Morphenox, a trademarked drug that suppresses calorie-robbing dreams. Heaven forbid if your stored fat doesn’t last till spring; you could be one of those poor souls who Died in Sleep. By comparison, the risk that Morphonox could turn you into a cannibalistic nightwalker is so slight that most pony up the bucks for the drug or have a job that guarantees it. Which is why orphan Charlie Worthing enlists as a novice Winter Counsel, guarding the sleeping masses through SlumberDown from such perils as maurauding nightwalkers and the fearsome Winterfolk. Adventure awaits, as do subplots and satire aplenty, when Charlie goes searching for the source of a viral dream featuring a blue Buick and grasping hands.

Fforde, best-known for his fantastic Thursday Next series that began with The Eyre Affair, is as clever and inventive as ever with this stand-alone. He pushes the boundaries of absurdity at times, and the plot threatens to collapse under the weight of the world-building. But the wordplay is so much fun, as are the many deft and delightful details and pop culture references. Only Fforde — or maybe Monty Python — could envision a creature whose ominous presence is announced by the faint strains of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. That’s entertainment.

Dystopia is disquieting in Karen Thompson Walker’s The Dreamers (Random House, digital galley), written in a lovely minor key. In her 2012 first novel The Age of Miracles, the end of the world as we know it was triggered by the slowing of the Earth’s rotation and narrated by a California sixth-grader. The story was elegiac and intimate as the ordinary rites of adolescence continued in the face of global catastrophe. “We kids were not as afraid as we should have been. We were too young to be scared, too immersed in our own small worlds, too convinced of our own permanence.”

The focus is wider, the voice omniscient in The Dreamers as people in a small California town fall victim to a mysterious sleeping sickness. The first victims are college students who fall asleep after a night of partying and slide into comas. But then scattered townspeople and the health workers caring for them sicken, too, and the viral epidemic spreads so that within just a matter of weeks the area is quarantined. Walker moves in out of the dreams and lives of the infected and the still-well. Especially poignant are the two young girls left alone when their prepper father falls ill. Their basement is full of canned goods, and they try to maintain a semblance of normalcy, taking in stray pets. Next door is a young couple who monitor their newborn for symptoms after she is inadvertently exposed. Across town, two students come together as volunteers nursing dreamers in the college library.

Walker’s tone is measured, almost hypnotic throughout. The result is a story as mysterious as a dream, as disturbing as a nightmare.


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shadowsWhile waiting what seems like forever for Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, the conclusion of the Divergent trilogy due out Oct. 22, I’ve been catching up on other YA offerings. There be magic aplenty.

Robin McKinley, who is known for her retellings of classic fairy tales (Beauty, Spindle’s End) and her original fantasies (The Hero and the Crown, Sunshine) gives a nod to both in the inventive Shadows (Penguin, purchased e-book). “The story starts like some thing out of a fairy tale. I hated my stepfather.” That’s 17-year-old Maggie talking about Val, the short, hairy, badly dressed immigrant from Oldworld her mom married. Actually, Maggie can’t really explain her antipathy to Val, except that she’s unsettled by the weird shadows surrounding him. Magic may still be accepted where Val’s from, but he wasn’t supposed to bring it to Newworld, where science rules and the “magic gene” was erased. So why is it only Maggie sees the shadows? It takes her awhile to figure it out, and McKinley’s story is on a slow burn until “cohesion breaks” threaten the reality of Maggie’s world and family. Her algebra book develops a mind of its own, a good friend undergoes a startling transformation, her border collie refuses to stay home, and the shadows reach out to touch Maggie’s mind and body. As always, McKinley’s a star at world-building, but Maggie’s teen-speak of made-up words like “dreepy” grows tiresome. Still, I’d like a sequel.

dreamthievesThe Dream Thieves (Scholastic, digital galley) is the sequel to Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, and offers even more paranormal thrills as a mythical quest takes a dark turn. In the first book (and you really should read it), small town girl Blue got to know four students from a nearby prep school — Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah.  All are still looking for the sleeping Welsh king Owen Glendower, but now that the “ley” lines running through the Virginia area have been opened, their paths diverge. Dark and dangerous Ronan is learning more about his murdered father’s legacy and his ability to retrieve items from dreams. The friendship between privileged Gansey and proud Adam is strained  to the breaking point, a mysterious “Gray Man” is tracking their movements, and Blue’s family of clairvoyants are keeping secrets. Stiefvater easily merges an ordinary world of pizza parlors, street races and summer fireworks with one where time is circular, a forest disappears, and terrifying night creatures descend from the skies. It all makes fabulous sense. Two more books are promised in the Raven cycle.

coldtownYou say you’ve had it with vampires? Then imagine how 17-year-old Tana feels when she passes out at a party and wakes up surrounded by bloody corpses. Someone has left a window open, which is just asking for trouble in Holly Black’s dark and daring The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Little Brown, digital galley). When Tara discovers two more survivors — the glam vampire Gavriel and her ex-boyfriend Aiden, who has been bitten and infected — she decides to try and save them all by going to the nearest Coldtown, a walled city where the government has quarantined the hedonistic bloodsuckers and their deluded followers. But once you go to Coldtown, you can’t come back — at least that’s what Tara, who lost her own mother to vampirism, understands. But perhaps if she embraces her doom, she may yet escape it. Maybe.

hereafterTeenage Rory has yet to accept her fate, much less welcome it, in Kate Brian’s Hereafter (Disney/Hyperion, digital galley), the second in the provocative Shadowlands series. In the first book, Rory and her family were placed in witness protection and relocated to Juniper Island to escape a serial killer. But the picturesque island, with its shifting population, rolling fogs and mysterious bridge, is really a way station for the dead, who will either be moving to the Light or to the Shadowlands. Except for Kate and a group of party-hearty teens. They’re the Lifers who must usher the dead on their designated paths, like it or not. But the weather vane indicates that something has changed in the eternal order. Exactly what remains up in the air as readers await a third book. Think of  this one as a necessary way station.

quarkbeastLet’s lighten up with Jasper Fforde’s The Song of the Quarkbeast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, purchased e-book), the second installment in the silly-but-clever Chronicles of Kazam. As we learned in the first book, The Last Dragonslayer, pragmatic foundling Jennifer Strange runs a mystical arts management company for workaday wizards in the Ununited Kingdom. The properly certified rewire houses, relocate trees and keep track of creatures like the metal-munching quarkbeast. But now the noxious king is proposing Kazam merge with rival firm iMagic by way of a duel, with the victor taking over the loser company. With the help of her assistant Tiger, Jennifer prepares her team of eccentrics for the challenge. Expect copious wordplay and full-frontal whimsy.

goldendayUrsula Dubosarsky’s dreamy The Golden Day (Candlewick Press, digital galley) is more mystery than fantasy, but magic tinges the writing and the plot. In 1967 Australia, Miss Renshaw takes her class of 11 11-year-old girls to a nearby park to write poems and ponder death. One day, the mysteriously poetic groundskeeper, Morgan, guides Miss Renshaw and the girls to a cave on the beach to look at Aboriginal paintings. The girls, shuffling in the darkness lit only by Morgan’s flashlight, can’t wait to leave. “It was Cynthia who couldn’t wait, wheezing, gasping for breath, who went first, and then the others after her. . .They stumbled along in a line, back the way they had come, crawling out the low tunnel, back to the cave’s mouth, back outside, back to the world they knew.” They wait outside in the sunshine, but Miss Renshaw and Morgan don’t come out. Ever. The girls are then haunted by their teacher’s disappearance in more ways than one. Dubosarsky’s atmospheric tale is haunted by echoes of the classic 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock. I liked it very much.

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What fun! Or should that be “ffun?” Jasper Fforde doubles readers’ pleasure with two new books — the seventh entry in the Thursday Next series and the first volume in a young adult series.

First, Next. In The Woman Who Died a Lot, literary law enforcement agent extraordinaire Thursday Next is still recovering from an assassination attempt when problems arise both at work and on the homefront. Reluctantly sidelined from Spec Ops and bookjumping, Thursday’s new stint as chief librarian at the Swindon branch is marred by 100 per cent budget cuts as Britain copes with a stupidity surplus. Meanwhile, her genius daughter Tuesday is having trouble perfecting the Anti-Smite shield before an asteroid-pillar of fire strikes Swindon end of the week, talented son Friday faces a bleak future in the ChronoGuard as a might-have-been, and younger daughter Jenny, well, she doesn’t exist except as a pesky mindworm in Thursday’s memory in spite of hubby Landen’s repeated reminders that she’s a never-was. Add in the Day Player replicas of Thursday unleashed by the all-powerful Goliath Company and it’s an unusually busy seven days for our favorite literary detective. And she’s still attempting to enter DRM — Dark Reading Matter — for its potential yield of raw metaphor, although other explorers have vanished in theory.

Newcomers to BookWorld Jurisprudence would do best to start with The Eyre Affair, the first Thursday  Next novel, which I remember describing as “Harry Potter for English majors.” It remains the perfect intro to FForde’s realm of absurdism, an inventive genre-bending mash-up of fantasy and crime, funny and punny.

Or you could try The Last Dragonslayer, launching the Chronicles of Kazam. It’s a playful primer to Fforde’s alternate world-view, clever yet silly. Pragmatic foundling Jennifer Strange, almost 16, runs a mystical arts management group-employment agency for magicians, all of whom are running low on power in this day and age. Magic carpet-riders deliver pizza and workaday wizards rewire houses.

Fforde has a fine time world-building with full-on whimsy. The plot involves a prophecy about the death of the Last Dragon (as opposed to the Previous), which leads to Jennifer discovering new career skills amid greedy property developers and mercurial magicians.  Be warned that not all end wells for everyone, but enough loose ends are tied up and enough left loose to make a sequel mandatory.

Open Book: I raced through Jasper Fforde’s The Woman Who Died A Lot (Viking Penguin, paperback ARC) so I could devour The Last Dragonslayer (Harcourt hardcover), a birthday present from my friend Laura, another Fforde aficionado and Thursday Next wanna-be.

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My list of heroines-I-wanna-be grows ever longer — Nancy Drew, Scout Finch, Elizabeth Bennet, Harriet Vane, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hermione Granger, Thursday Next. And now Mwfanwy  Thomas.

Who is Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas? Myfanwy herself would like to know. At the beginning of Daniel O’Malley’s clever genre-bender, The Rook, “On Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service,” a young woman wakes up in a London park with no memory of herself. A letter in her pocket, which begins “Dear You” and is signed “Sincerely, Me” tells her that she now inhabits the body of Myfanwy Alice Thomas. A second letter offers her a choice — leave London immediately and assume a new, moneyed identity far, far away, or become Myfanwy Thomas and track down the killers of the real Myfanwy’s memories. The second choice is more dangerous given that the new Myfanwy is surrounded by motionless bodies wearing latex gloves and that unknown enemies are hot on her trail. Move, Myfanwy!

More letters from “Me” provide explanations and instructions as Myfanwy pretends to be her former self, a high-level operative in the Chequy, the secret government agency that guards Britain against supernatural threats. There are more of these than you might imagine, and Myfanwy gets on-the-job training almost immediately when she’s called on to fight a mysterious, enveloping purple fungus. Thank goodness she has some special powers. She’s going to need them as she not only contends with ghosts, ghoulies and grafters, but also a conspiracy within the shadow world of the Chequy.

This might sound a tad complicated, but O’Malley’s narrative is fast-paced and funny, a la Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels and the BBC’s Dr. Who-spinoff, Torchwood. There’s some similar deft world-building as well, the villains are dastardly indeed, and there’s more to appealing Mywfany than meets the eye. Fun, fun, fun. Sign me up for the sequel.

Open Book: I read a digital edition of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (Little, Brown) provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Since it is about to expire, I’ll be buying a copy to keep and reread.

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