Click here to read reviewer Tanya Boudreau's take on Thursday Next: First Among Sequels.
After a two-book excursion into the realm of the “Nursery Crime,” Jasper Fforde returns to the world of Thursday Next with his latest book, First Among Sequels. As with all of Fforde’s other books, this one is a wonderful, parodic exploration of the world of fiction. However, this time he spends a little too much time with the meta-narrative and not as much time coming up with an interesting plot. Making the ending a bit of a cliffhanger also loses a couple of points.
It’s thirteen years after the events of Something Rotten, and most of the special policing divisions in England (known as Spec-Ops) have been shut down. This includes the Literary Crime unit (SO-27), of which Thursday Next was the best-known detective. Thursday’s living a happy life with her wonderful husband, Langdon, and her three beautiful children, but she has a secret. Not only is she still with SO-27 as they do things “unofficially,” but she’s also maintained her position with Jurisfiction, the organization that polices the inside of the literary world. Not to mention that she’s inundated with problems, from literary genres threatening to go to war with each other to the death of Sherlock Holmes and the disappearance of humor from the hilarious Thomas Hardy novels. There’s also the training of two apprentices. Oh, and if she can’t convince her oldest son to join the time-cops, time as we know it will fold up and the universe will be obliterated. No pressure, though.
Given the number of problems Thursday has in First Among Sequels, you’d think the book would be quite plot-heavy, with lots of literary allusions spicing up the mix. That’s not what happens. Instead, it seems to take forever for any of the plots to get off the ground as Fforde concentrates on literary and real-world parodies: one of the senators from the Council of Genres sounds suspiciously like Kim Jong-il, at least during one scene near the beginning of the novel. There’s also a hilarious take-off on “The Lady or the Tiger” in the form of a games how that could have deadly consequences. These scenes demonstrate Fforde’s wicked sense of humor and are a joy to read, but I kept waiting for snippets of plot that Fforde had already mentioned to actually move forward. For the longest time, there was too much “meta” to this narrative.
Because of this, Fforde keeps most of the characterization quite broad, with only Thursday getting any real depth. Her two apprentices, variations of Thursday from the books chronicling her adventures (a nice meta-touch, as the first four books that were full of sex, action, and blood are named the same as Fforde’s actual books, and the last one turned her into a hippie), are stereotypes, but then again that’s what they supposedly were in the novels, so that’s not surprising. One definitely doesn’t read Fforde for the characters except the main one, so this isn’t necessarily a knock against the book. It’s just something to keep in mind when you’re deciding whether or not you want to pick it up.
What makes First Among Sequels, as well as the first four books, worth reading is the vivid imagination that Fforde uses to create his world. While the idea of travelling within books doesn’t stand up to exceptionally close scrutiny, it’s thought out well enough to make it feel realistic and thus we can suspend our disbelief. Fforde comes up with even more extreme ideas, such as a “Stupidity Surplus” that the government has generated by not doing anything even remotely silly recently, and how Fforde ties this in with the other plots is simply genius. I admire Fforde’s mind; his brilliance makes the trip through these books worth it no matter what you think of the plots.
It’s just sad that Fforde had to flex his imaginative muscle by doing a sub-par Thursday Next novel. I said in my review of Something Rotten that I hoped it was the end for Thursday Next because Fforde had gone out on a high-note. I still feel the same way after reading First Among Sequels, despite having enjoyed it very much. Granted, the cliffhanger ending does hold out hope that Fforde may be able to get back on top, but part of me wishes he hadn’t bothered in the first place. The Nursery Crime novels hold so much promise that this wasn’t really necessary.
Still, it’s here, and we must take it as it is. Thankfully, Fforde’s imagination more than makes up for the lack of plot resolution, and First Among Sequels is another great read. Even better is that while there are many literary allusions, they’re not very high-brow; readers who aren’t necessarily familiar with the classics should still have enough knowledge to make the jokes funny. There are also enough jokes about other things (such as bad reality shows) that, even if you don’t get the literary references, there is still much in here to make you laugh.
While unnecessary in my opinion, First Among Sequels is a fun read that will definitely leave you wanting more.