Shared Joy is Twice the Joy, Shared Pain is Half the Pain

Author Review – Jasper Fforde

If I had to pick my favorite author, I couldn’t do it. But if I had to pick my top five, Jasper Fforde would definitely be there. I first discovered his books in freshman or sophomore year of high school, when I read The Eyre Affair. I wish I remember how I came across it, but it was probably just the library. (those pesky things, introducing us to new books and ideas and stuff!) I distinctly remember devouring it. Harry Potter-style, I read my way through the 200-ish pages in a single night. And then I went and read Jane Eyre just so I could re-read and understand more of The Eyre Affair. And then I began recommending his novels to every person who would listen.

Fforde’s novels fall closest to the fantasy genre, although I don’t like classifying books so narrowly. There’s a lot of time travel, literary references, a bit of social commentary, romance, murder, hilarious dialogue, and complete confusion. They (almost) never have a chapter 13, have a literary reference on every page, and keep me glued to my chair from cover to cover. 

Thursday Next

His first series, called The Thursday Next Series, revolves around a literary detective named Thursday Next. She can read herself into novels, and her main job is to put escaped characters back into their books. Throughout all her escapades, she  searches for a non-existent assassin (The Eyre Affair), helps her deceased father save the future world from poisonous pink goo so she can have a son with the memory of her husband (Lost in a Good Book), convinces Hamlet back into the literary world (Something Rotten), fends off an attempt to switch places by the literary Thursday Next (One of Our Thursdays is Missing), and convinces future versions of her children to make good life choices (First Among Sequels).

I absolutely love the story of Thursday’s adventures, and read these books almost as often as I read Matilda as a child. Sometimes I love them for the adventure, other times for the romance in spite of adversity. I can’t help but notice new facts about the Goliath Corporation each time; Fforde’s critique of capitalism is as carefully crafted as his fiction is fantastical. And every time I read them, I notice new references I hadn’t seen before; I realize that the books are even more nerdy than I first thought.

Shades of Grey

Another, unrelated book of his that I loved is Shades of Grey. (Not to be confused with 50 Shades of Grey. Please, dear God, do not confuse them. Ever.) Set in Chromatacia, where everyone’s sight is limited to just one color, the novel falls squarely in the dystopian genre I have loved for so long. The story jumps right into Chromatacia, without any introductions or other superfluous, uselessly verbose character, set, or plot descriptions. I read the first five chapters and then started over, once I had a sense of what was going on.

The inhabitants live sometime in the distant future (our current society is referred to merely as “the previous”), and they live in a world dominated by color. Which they can’t see. Yup. The cities are named after colors, and one’s social status is dependent on the color you can see. Unsurprisingly, references are made to The Wizard of Oz and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Confusingly, spoons are particularly valuable.

Dragonslayer Series

The first in a trilogy for young adults, The Last Dragonslayer is all about 15 year old Jennifer Strange, who is responsible for all the witches and wizards at Kazam. As if that wasn’t enough, she has to train an apprentice, deal with ever-fluctuating magic levels, and figure out why everyone’s premonitions place her squarely in the center of the dragon controversy. Unlike most young adult novels which, at this point of my life, are fun and quick but lack nuance, this Fforde novel seemed perfect. I can’t wait for my brother to finish his summer reading so I can give it to him. I know he’ll whine and complain, but then he’ll read it front to back in just a few days, and then ask for the next one.

All in all, Jasper Fforde is one of my favorite authors. His books are always fun, and always smart. They aren’t hard to read, but they’re nearly impossible to explain. I’ve done my best here to give the premise of his novels without giving away the endings, but there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of details in his books that I haven’t mentioned (or noticed, probably!). I strongly encourage you to get over to the library/bookstore and check one out today!


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