Early Riser, Jasper Fforde (Viking 978-0-670-02503-9, $28.00, 416pp, hc) February 2019. Cover art by Patrick Leger.
Given how popular Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books are, I feel like I have to preface this review with a disclaimer: Early Riser is the first Fforde I’ve ever read. As far as I can tell, it does not fit into his most popular series. I also can’t tell you if it is more like those books or less like them because, again, I have no point of comparison.
I bring this up for a couple of reasons:
I don’t know if Fforde’s main characters tend to not want things until the middle of the story. I do know that Charlie Worthing, a newly appointed Winter Consul, spends the first 200+ pages simply being buffeted about a frozen Wales countryside without any firm desires of his own.
I also don’t know if this works in other Fforde books like it almost does here. The world he’s made is fascinating and detailed. In Early Riser, the world experiences four months of winter and most people hibernate through it. Over the millennia of this wake/sleep cycle, a different culture than one we’d recognize has emerged. It has its own language about full pantries, as well as a celebration of packing on pounds in the fall. There are creatures that wander the frozen world and quasi-zombies that prey on those still sleeping. Against that background, a main character who just drifts along almost works, until it really, really doesn’t.
For all of the imagination involved, this world still has developed some of the pop culture we have, too, like the Muppets, which is weird.
Once the plot kicks into gear, the story of how Charlie figures out what’s going on in the evermore surreal landscape he’s found himself in is satisfying, as are all of the touches of malicious whimsy.
Taken in isolation, Early Riser is an amusing enough book that creates a rich backstory and immersive world, even if it starts with a long slog uphill through powdery snow. The ride back down the hill makes it worth the effort.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the June 2019 issue of Locus.
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