Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next: First Among Sequels is a fun book for the bookish: literary, smart, and silly, all at once. If you enjoy fantasy, mystery, and the classics, you can't go wrong with this grin-inducing installment of Fforde's Thursday Next series.
Thursday Next inhabits a world both similar to and different from our own. She hails from Swindon, England, not far from the Socialist Republic of Wales, from which she smuggles cheese (cheese being contraband in her world). Once upon a time, Thursday had been a member of the literary branch Special Operations (SO-27). Since the service was disbanded, she has been working freelance with some other of the SpecOps specialists whose services had also been shut down. The ChronoGuard (SpecOps 12), of whom both her father and her son are members, remain on duty, protecting the SHE (standard historical eventline), which must be obeyed.
Thursday has disguised her SpecOps work by working for a front company that lays carpets. The SpecOps work is also a front for her work in the Book World, as a Jurisficiton agent who polices narratives to make sure they don't change too much and is on the lookout for dangerous viruses like grammarsites (parasites that feed on grammar). The Book Work is rarely breached by those in the real world, or the Outland; Thursday is practically unique in being able to do so.
The Book World is where stories are created. Literary characters are truly alive in the Book World, and they are aware they are characters in books. Like actors in plays, they must perform when the book is being read but can do other things when their books are not being read.
Unfortunately, books are not being read, in increasing alarming rates, something which worries the the Book World greatly. Meanwhile, in the Outland, an excess of stupidity brought about by the sensible government of the Common Sense Party is threatening England's security. A myriad of such seemingly extraneous and funny plot lines revolve in First Among Sequels, all coming to a satisfying close — mostly. Fforde leaves Thursday in new pickle, thus making ready for the next installment of the series (for which lists no less than eight potential titles in the end pages).
Jasper Fforde's series is a fine example of British humor writing, very much in keeping with the likes of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy series. It is a fine nod to the reading public as well. In the first series book, The Eyre Affair, the better one knows Jane Eyre, the better the fun. In First Among Sequels, there are copious references to popular works (Harry Potter among them), as well as the nefarious encroachment of reality TV on the popular psyche. It is more topical and a bit less literary; therefore it's twice the fun for a reader like me, who last read Charlotte Brontë in high school.
If you can't stand silly British comedy, then perhaps Jasper Fforde is not for you. Otherwise, anyone who loves books and reading will get a kick out Fforde's version of the world(s).