Author: Jasper Fforde
Nursery Crimes Series, vol. 1
My rating: 4.5 of 5
In a world where detective work is valued as much for its entertainment value as for the actual societal benefit of bringing criminals to justice, detective sergeant Mary Mary dreams of becoming Official Sidekick to a recognized, published detective. Instead, her transfer to the Reading branch lands her in what seems to be a career dead end, working under Detective Inspector Jack Spratt in the Nursery Crime Division. But things pick up a bit when the death of Humpty Dumpty–originally believed to be accident or suicide–is discovered to have been a murder. And not just any murder, but one steeped in schemes, plots, and old loves lost. This will be a case that will try DS Mary’s loyalty and skills to the max, but it might just be the case that will win her loyalty for her sometimes bumbling superior as well. And you never know, it might even get them published.
Yet again, in The Big Over Easy, Jasper Fforde has crafted a strange and unpredictable world . . . one oddly reminiscent of our own. I love it! It’s been ages since I’ve enjoyed a detective story as much as I did this one. As I said, the alternate universe he presents is unique, quirky, and interesting–full of mysteries and oddities at every turn–and yet is similar enough to reality to bring poignant perspectives on our own lives. I love the multitudinous (and sometimes subtle) allusions to nursery rhymes and fairy tales that are mixed throughout the story, as well as the tongue-in-cheek way they are used. The plot itself is solid and surprising, bringing in a number of unexpected elements . . . and also pleasantly intermixing the detectives’ own personal lives. The characters themselves are well written, although again, full of that quirky, tongue-in-cheek style–some more than others. Jack and Mary, at least, are more normal, credible individuals–and because of that, more full of real individuality and character, which is nice. I would definitely recommend The Big Over Easy to those who like detective stories (as long as it doesn’t have to be too particularly realistic) and to those who enjoy a good romp in fantasy–or in Fforde’s quirky worlds, at least. It was a very good story.
Author: Lloyd Alexander
The Prydain Chronicles, vol. 1
Taran dreams of a life of heroism, convinced his real life in tiny Caer Dallben is anything but. While daring swordfights spark his imagination, he finds himself Assistant Pigkeeper to an oracular pig who, while quite nice in her own way, has never done anything exciting. Or at least, not until one fateful day when all the creatures in Caer Dallben started acting terrified and ran away . . . a day when the Horned King rode. Chasing after the pig, Hen Wen, into the forest, Taran soon finds himself dragged into an adventure as big as he could have ever hoped . . . only, heroics in truth seem a lot more like hard work, sacrifice, exhaustion, hunger, and conviction than like anything he ever expected. On the course of his journey, Taran meets numerous people who show him what true valor looks like: Prince Gwydion, the lovely Eilonwy, the creature Gurgi, travelling bard (and notorious liar) Fflewddur Fflam, to name a few. In the end, Taran’s whole view of life will change . . . and you never know, he might develop a touch of heroism himself.
I love Lloyd Alexander’s writing, and his Prydain books in particular. There’s just something about his matter-of-fact, pragmatic, yet somehow satirical voice that’s both captivating and extremely funny. His plot is exciting, but I must say, it’s the people that stand out, and the things they learn (which are almost always things we need to learn ourselves as well). Gwydion is a true hero–by which I mean he’s a servant who puts others before himself. Gurgi, with all of his crunchings and munchings is quite the enigma, someone you could easily feel sorry for but who’s actually braver and more loyal than most anyone when it comes down to it. And the princess Eilonwy . . . Alexander’s female leads are always impressive and a treat to read, and Eilonwy’s no exception. I admire her strength of character, and I think her metaphorical way of speaking adds both humor and depth to the story. Poor Fflewddur . . . you’d think he’s mostly there for comic effect, but then there are moments when he truly surprises you. It’s a delight to see the characters growing throughout their journey. I LOVE The Book of Three and would highly recommend it to anyone upper elementary to adult.
Author: Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next Series, vol. 1
Between her time on the police force in Swindon, her service in the war in Crimea, and more recently her job in Spec-Ops 27–the literary detectives–Thursday Next has seen her share of action and unusual happenings. Regardless, current events might be too much even for this cool, collected operative. When the theft of priceless original manuscripts–with no sign of the crime save a bit of rippled glass on the case–seems to tie in to the manhunt for an extremely dangerous criminal–dangerous in ways almost no one even knows–Thursday naturally gets dragged into the mess. And it’s a good thing for the literary world that she does; she might be one of the only people out there with the combination of experience and nerve to be able to pull off the save necessary to preserve the great books of the world.
After reading First Among Sequels, I naturally had to go back to the beginning of the story to see what happened before. Honestly, The Eyre Affair was a bit of a letdown approaching it in that manner–the world, the characters, and Fforde’s own quirky writing style are so much more developed in First Among Sequels. It’s understandable, since The Eyre Affair was his first novel; naturally, he’s still figuring out his writing style. Approaching this book from a less biased perspective, it really is quite good. It takes your basic police/detective novel and gives it some extremely interesting spins–like adding in time-travel, Thursday’s uncle Monty’s weird inventions, murder of characters from within books, bringing dodos and Neanderthals back to earth through cloning, and experiencing a poem from the inside. Lots of literary fun–in a world where literature is apparently considered extremely important. Thursday herself is a strong character, even at this point in her story, and the balance of action and character development is well done. Really, the story reminds me of Elizabeth Peters’ earlier books–a good solid detective novel with strong characters and a nice touch of originality. While not his best novel, I would say The Eyre Affair is a must-read for any Jasper Fforde fan, and I would recommend it for those who enjoy a good detective novel as well.
Author: Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next Series, vol. 5
At first glance, Thursday Next appears to be your average working wife and mother of three. Once you go past the cover of her nice little job installing carpet (has she ever actually installed carpet?) however, you find a much different story. Ms. Next is actually a Jurisfiction agent, policing the world of books and making sure that stories run as they’re supposed to. Which is a lot more complicated than it sounds, since the Book World is an actual world . . . that operates with its own completely unique and confusing set of rules. And if just keeping Story in order weren’t enough, Thursday is tasked to train up her fictional other self Thursday5 for Jurisfiction work, keep the governing body of the Book World (the Council of Genres) from doing something stupid like going to war or re-writing the classics as a reality show, convince her teenage son Friday to join the Chrono Guard and figure out time travel before time ends . . . oh, and keep the whole Jurisfiction thing a secret from her husband. Wait, I think I forgot something. . . .
I enjoyed Thursday Next: First Among Sequels very much–it’s a book-lover’s book to be sure! Of course, Jasper Fforde is a wonderful author, period. Even though I accidentally jumped into the series in volume 5, it wasn’t too particularly difficult to jump into the flow and figure out what’s happening. And there is a lot happening! The story is a mix-up of detective/police novel, literary fantasy/sci-fi, time-travel paradox, and fun family story, and Fforde pulls off the mix brilliantly–somehow without being absurdly confusing. I’ve really never read anything like it. The literary allusions, grammar humor, and general bookishness are very endearing–and incredibly funny at times. Thursday herself is a wonderful character: smart, caring, tough, insightful, and surprising. You should read First Among Sequels; I really can’t see anyone who loves books regretting diving into this one.
Author: Jasper Fforde
The Chronicles of Kazam, vol. 1
My rating: 5 of 5
(Almost) 16-year-old Jennifer Strange finds herself with her hands quite full after her boss, the (once) Great Zambini, disappears, leaving her in charge of a collection of finicky, easily-offended, pretentious, and slightly-shabby magic users of various sorts. Did I mention that she has no way out of this situation, since the disappeared Zambini is the only one who can sign off on her indenture papers? Fortunately her new assistant, Tiger, seems bright and level-headed enough to be a big help . . . a help much needed when work on the street arises that Jennifer Strange is fated to slay the last dragon in the Ununited Kingdoms–next Sunday!
I really enjoyed this quirky, rambling fantasy. The Last Dragonslayer feels something like “Garrison Keillor meets Diana Wynne Jones”–unusual but fun. The characters are an intriguing bunch: some not so likeable, many quite surprising. I particularly liked the Quarkbeast (Jennifer’s unusual pet) and Tiger (the new assistant). The plot elements in The Last Dragonslayer are off-beat, but crafted to make rather a classic sort of fantasy. The combination works very well. Check it out!