I am a massive fan of Jasper Fforde from the Thursday Next novels to the Nursery Crime books to Shades of Grey and I’d really missed him in the four years he’s been away. When I heard that he’d returned from the cold with a new self-contained story, I was chuffed to little mintballs.
Early Riser is set in a world where humans hibernate at winter; all except for a group of people who take care the world while everyone is fast asleep. The only problem is, everything isn’t running just fine and it’s down to Charlie Worthing to find out what is going on.
It’s typical Fforde, a hapless yet endearing hero thrust into a world he has to understand before he can save and there is a lot going for this book. Fforde is the master at creating worlds that are just close enough to ours to make them plausible. Why wouldn’t humans hibernate? His attention to detail about how this would work is great, how humans would have to pack on the pounds to survive the winter or how dreams are avoided with medication as they burn off too much calories.
For anyone who has never read a Fforde book, what are you doing? Get onto that immediately, he is a dream to read. The tone and style that he writes in is incredibly accessible, instead of challenging you to find your place in these new worlds, he makes it as though you never lived anywhere else.
That was my first disappointment of Early Riser in all honesty, the time he takes to set it all up is incredibly long winded. Almost half of the book feels like a scene setter and then the story is crammed in the second half. I went to see him speak as part of his promo tour for this book and it appears that getting this book to the stands was a difficult process. His frustrations do come across on the page.
I’m sure if we had nothing to compare it with, Early Riser would probably be a perfectly good book but it pales into comparison when you sit it next to the titans that have come before it.
The characters we are given are two dimensional at best and it’s hard to feel anything for them, it feels very much that we are observing them instead of cheering them on. Charlie is fine but very bland, he doesn’t appear to have any flaws or any particular purpose other than trying to get through the winter. We have no goal for him. There are many unnecessary characters that could have been combined or just ignored completely.
The use of dreams in the book is a genius stroke, I love how this theme develops (I won’t spoil it for you) but the small man against a massive corporation is a scenario that Fforde has covered before and feels like a bit of a fall back.
The web of the story is brilliantly played though and executed perfectly as only Fforde can. I did enjoy Early Riser but I didn’t absolutely love it. It has left me feeling happy that he is back from his creative hiatus and eager to see what is next on the horizon. If you are new to Fforde, I would probably go for the Thursday Next series to start your journey and leave this one for a rainy day when you’re desperate for a Ffordian fix.