The Eye of Zoltar, by Jasper Fforde

The Eye of ZoltarGuys! Guys! The new Jasper Fforde is out! I don’t know how we have all survived to this day! Well, I mean, some of us had ARCs. And probably some of us live in or ordered it from the UK, where it has been out for SIX MONTHS already. Those sneaky Brits. But if you aren’t one of those people? It’s here! Hooray!

There’s really not that much to say about The Eye of Zoltar that I haven’t already said about every other Jasper Fforde book ever, and especially about the other two books in the Last Dragonslayer series. You’ve got your Jennifer Strange, teen head of a wizarding corporation; you’ve got your Un-United Kingdoms, poised for war at any and every moment; you’ve got your wacky hijinks and puns and misunderstandings and deus ex machina…s?

This book picks up right after the last one left off, but you don’t need to have read that one because Fforde delivers a summary right at the start, which is sooooo useful because all the crazy he writes can get easily mixed up in my head. And besides, all that nonsense gets left behind when Jennifer goes off on what is very clearly not a quest (quests involve too much paperwork, you see) to find a probably nonexistent object for a usually inanimate but still very powerful magician. Before she can go off on this not-a-quest, she is also recruited by the king and queen to take their insufferable princess daughter, recently body-swapped with her own beleaguered servant, and train her up to be a useful human being. Just another day in the life of Jennifer Strange.

One of the weirder things about this book is that it gets downright educational. It turns out that the princess is some kind of economics genius and she explains things like futures and options and goat trade in a way that seems, to this reader with little knowledge of economics, to be pretty factual and useful if I ever want to rid myself of a goat surplus. Luckily all that learnin’ talk is surrounded by rubberized dragons and leaps of faith and 50 percent survival rates, so you don’t have to learn things if you’d rather not. Nice to have the option.

I am definitely intrigued to see where Fforde goes next with this series, but according to his website he is taking a break from dragon slayers for a little while and releasing a “super secret standalone novel” next year (oooooooh) and then, finally, a prequel to Shades of Grey in 2016, and holy crap I am so excited for that I can’t even. In the meantime, this book is the perfect cure for your Fforde withdrawal, post-summer reading slump, or general boredom.

Recommendation: For everyone, unless you don’t like weird humor, in which case I’m not sure why you’re here.

Rating: 8/10

The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde

The Song of the QuarkbeastAgain, perpetually: Me + JF 4eva!

Speaking of books that aren’t what I expected, after our last encounter with Jennifer Strange and company, I figured it would be Dragon Central in this series. Sadly, our dragon friend is mentioned only in passing, but happily there is enough craziness in Fforde’s world to make up for the lack.

A brief summary of said world: it is a sort of post-magic world, wherein magicians used to be awesome and all-powerful but now there’s not enough magic energy to go around and so these same magicians are relegated to basic handyman jobs and making pizza deliveries on flying carpets. Our protagonist, Jennifer Strange, is a teenage, non-magician acting manager of Kazam, a company of crazy old magicians who get into the usual amount of shenanigans.

In this go-round, Strange is herding her ragtag group in preparation for the rebuilding of a large bridge, with hopes of securing future engineering contracts for her company. The head of the competing magic company, however, is not thrilled to see Strange’s magicians doing well and so more or less challenges them to a magic duel — both companies will repair the bridge at the same time and whichever group finishes their half first gets to absorb the other company.

Of course, that head, the newly self-christened All-Powerful Blix, is not up for playing fairly, and also of course, magic is fickle and so Kazam’s magicians are sidelined one by one for various reasons. Strange must try to fix all of her magicians and also catch a glimpse of Kazam’s regular manager, who is bouncing around space-time due to a spell, and also see about a potentially stray Quarkbeast and try not to let it be killed.

As always, I greatly enjoy Fforde’s way with words and his commitment to making his invented worlds as full of life and insanity as possible. He gets in some good digs at our real world and our reliance on things that run essentially on magic, as well as more generally at the incompetence of bureaucracy, but mostly he is content to let his characters do whatever they want, which is consistently amusing. When does his next book come out?

Recommendation: For lovers of Fforde or those with a love of things that make no sense and yet totally do.

Rating: 9/10

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde

The Last DragonslayerI remember being really excited a couple of years ago to find out that my beloved author Jasper Fforde was coming out with a children’s book. I noted the release date and kept an eye out for it at my new and old libraries, but it never showed up. I was quite baffled by this seeming lack of love for the Fforde until I realized that, oh no!, it was only being released in the UK with no US date forthcoming. The agony!

Luckily I could content myself with One of Our Thursdays is Missing a few months later, and then things got real busy anyway and The Last Dragonslayer was relegated to the back of my mind until one day, a couple weeks before Christmas, it just showed up on my cart of books to catalog and I was like, so there is a Santa, then.

And oh, how delightful this book was to read. It’s your basic Fforde setup, taking magic and dragons and kingdoms in conflict and envisioning them tied up in eight layers of bureaucracy and apathy. We follow the exploits of Jennifer Strange, a fifteen-year-old who is acting head of a magical agency that sends out wizards to do things like rewire houses since magic is not quite as powerful as it once was. She’s doing quite all right until word gets out from some future-seers that the last dragon is about to be killed by the Last Dragonslayer, that the dragon’s lands are already surrounded by mobs looking to stake their claim, and that more than a few companies would be willing to pay good money if Miss Strange just hands over a bit of information from her agency’s own future-seer.

That’s not nearly all, of course; things get much weirder and even if you can tell where this plot is going, you probably don’t know how it’s going to get there. Fforde piles on the ridiculousness and the dry humor and all the fantastic-ness I’ve come to expect from him but still I’m never quite sure what is going on in that mind of his.

I think this book is especially good because it’s a first book in a series — Fforde excels in world-building and it’s always delightful to see how his new universes work. As much as I enjoy every Thursday Next book that comes out, it’s nice to have a fresh new set of characters and settings to cleanse the Fforde palate. πŸ™‚ How long until the second book comes stateside?

Recommendation: For lovers of the Fforde or weird things in general or dragons or magic or… really, I think you should just read this.

Rating: 9/10

The Woman Who Died a Lot, by Jasper Fforde

The Woman Who Died a LotI’m pretty sure I’ve used up all of the words to describe Jasper Fforde and his wonderful and delightful books. So I’ll just have to repeat myself: LOVE.

At this point in the series, it’s hard to explain what’s going on without starting way back at the beginning, so just be warned that the rest of this post may be baffling.

Soooo, Thursday is still a badass, but a badass with a limp from some event that I don’t remember and am not sure if I should. She thinks she might be in the running to head her old literary detective SpecOps division, but instead she gets to run the city’s library services, which are decidedly more… aggressive… than any I’ve ever worked for! And of course right away she’s got more than just cataloging to worry about, as Jack Schitt shows up stealing completely unimportant books, and also her consciousness keeps getting stolen by her own doppelgangers, and also an old enemy is confusing her, and also God is pissed off at everyone who believes in him and is smiting cities and possibly soon Thursday’s brother if Thursday’s daughter can’t stop it, and also Thursday’s son is having problems after time travel stops working.

Right. Yes. All of that.

And of course Jasper Fforde turns a great phrase as always, so the book goes fast and delightfully. Perfect brain candy after those two doorstops I just trudged through!

Rating: 8/10

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

I have been meaning to re-read this series since, oh, the first time I read The Eyre Affair almost exactly three years ago. But I really got it into my head to do it over the summer, and by that time I had lent the first book to a good friend who is apparently bad at returning books, and I was all, fret fret fret. But then I realized β€” audiobooks! So I grabbed this book on audio from the library, and I can now say that it is a rather different experience.

The idea behind The Eyre Affair is actually a complex set of ideas. You have an alternate universe where Britain has been fighting the Crimean War for, you know, 130 years, no big deal, so you’ve got the pro-war/anti-war/pro-soldier/pro-let’s-have-a-nap-instead set of issues. This alternate universe also includes time travel that is constantly re-writing history. Also vampires and werewolves. Also people who really really know you’re talking about them. Also reconstituted dodos. Also many other things, and also, primarily for the book’s purposes, a Special Ops unit dedicated to solving crimes against books. Which is awesome.

It’s a whole big mess of everything, and so when I read it with my eyes, I necessarily imbued a Hitchhiker’s/Buffy/Monty Python snark-the-day-away sort of mentality into it. And in fact, the audio book box promises these things. But what struck me within the first chapter of reading with my ears is that the narrator, despite having a fantastic voice for Thursday, does not choose to play the book that way. She is very very earnest and plays very straight off the page, and I felt like I was missing out on a lot of Fforde’s wit and sarcasm.

On the plus side, I can now pronounce a lot of things from the book better than I could a week ago. Darn British people and their un-intuitive spellings.

The other thing I found interesting about re-reading this book is that I had forgotten how different the first book is from all the rest, because Fforde had really intended The Eyre Affair as a standalone. The pacing is slower (we don’t even get to the Eyre part until practically the end!), there is a LOT of exposition-y stuff, and Thursday is not quite the BAMF she becomes later. And oh my goodness had I forgotten about Daisy. Let me just go jump into this book and punch her in the face.

Right, yes. On the whole I recommend the eyes-reading experience better than the ears-reading, but either way is pretty fantastic.

Recommendation: Do you like books? Mysteries? Sci-fi? Love stories? Dodos? Characters called Braxton Hicks and Jack Schitt? Fun? Go read this series.

Rating: 7.5/10 (lower than last time for the audio sadness)

(A to Z Challenge)

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, by Jasper Fforde

Jasper! It has been so long! And even longer back to the last Thursday Next! I have missed you so much.

Okay, soooooooooooo. I tried explaining this book to my husband, but it is in fact quite difficult to explain without the help of five previous novels to get across the whole BookWorld concept. But, basically, there is a BookWorld and it is inhabited by all the characters of all the books you ever or never read, and whenever you read a book these characters are like, “Oh, time to pop on stage!” and act out your book. This is why books are slightly different every time you read them, see? It makes perfect sense.

Hanyway, we found out in the afore-linked last novel that the Thursday Next books have been published within the world of Thursday Next, but they’re not the same as the ones we here in our world have been reading, and the chick what plays Thursday is not… not really Thursday-ish. She’s kind of a hippie rather than a badass. Nonetheless, in this book the written Thursday gets a big taste of real Thursday life when not only does a strange book-crash (I cannot explain that) mystery leads her to, among other things, find out that Real Thursday is totes missing, which is a problem on many levels.

I thought this entry was brilliant, possibly because I’ve been severely lacking Fforde in my life recently and possibly because this book was much tighter, I think, than others in the series, and more subtle (especially compared to the last). I also loved that it’s from the point of view of a written Thursday, and therefore gives us more insight into the BookWorld, which is decidedly less complicated than the real Thursday’s world, and also more predictable but predictably amusing. Because the book has a different protagonist and all, I would say it’s difficult to read this without having read the others, but I don’t think impossible.

Worrisome is the fact that the book wraps a lot of things up quite nicely, which leads me to think that all of the Thursdays might be getting shelved soon, though if it’s in favor of new and exciting series I might be okay with this.

Recommendation: If you like literature and you like satire, this satire of literature is for you. But you should probably start back at the beginning for optimum effect.

Rating: 9/10
(A to Z Challenge)

Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde

We all know I love Jasper Fforde, the creator of the lovely Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. He writes novels that are ridiculous in just the right range to be delightful and crams in literary and cultural references in places that I did not know such references could exist. If you’ve read and liked his other novels, go read this one. You don’t need any convincing. If you haven’t read his other novels, a) what are you waiting for and b) you are so missing out.

Shades of Grey is the first in a new series with the same name β€” this one is officially subtitled The Road to High Saffron. In it we meet our hero, Eddie Russett, a “red” who is being sent out to East Carmine to conduct a chair census because he “needs humility,” at least according to the badge he’s required to wear.

I know, I know, you’re like, “Um, a red? A chair census? Wearing a badge that says ‘needs humility’?” And it’s really hard to explain without just quoting the entire book, so go read it! But basically, Fforde has created a world in which people are mostly color-blind β€” some can see red (and are thus called Reds and get last names that are shades of red), some can see blue, some can see yellow, and some can see combinations of two, but no one can see all three, or even 100 percent of one. And of course some can see so little that they are simply called Greys. As to the chair census, well, this world is governed by about a billionty-six rules (er, Rules) that proscribe everything from the clothes one should wear while travelling to the number of chairs that should be available in a given area (1.8 per person, of course). And when certain Rules are broken, Rule-breakers get to wear a little badge that lets the world know what they’ve done. Wonderful!

Anyway, back to Eddie β€” he never gets his chair census done because as soon as he arrives in East Carmine, he starts to think weird things might be going on and to ask a lot of questions that let him know that, yes, really weird things are going on. Like, how did his new housemaid, Jane, beat him and his father from Vermillion to East Carmine when they took the train and she didn’t? How did the town Swatchman (read: doctor) manage to fatally mis-diagnose himself, or did he? Are wheelbarrows made of bronze?

So, yes, it’s all insane, but entertainingly so. Eddie is a great character who goes from uptight Rule-respecter (if not -follower) to slightly less uptight Rule-questioner to a man eaten by a yateveo tree, and Jane is just plain awesome with her threats of violence and cynical attitude (and has a cute retroussΓ© nose), and I can’t wait to see what Fforde has up his sleeve for the next two books.

Rating: 9/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Shelf Monkey

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.