I recently finished reading ‘Early Riser’ by Jasper Fforde and as I personally hadn’t read a book by him for several years, and he evidently hasn’t written one for a few years either I wasn’t sure what to expect.
But the premise as described on the back cover piqued my interest right away so I decided to give it a punt. And, spoiler alert, I’m glad I did!
The book is set in an alternate version of Wales, one gripped by a winter the likes of which we will never see. This is a world where humanity is forced to hibernate over the winter months in order to survive the harsh conditions, much like many animals do in our own world.
The main character Charlie Worthing takes a job as a winter consul and becomes one of the few people who stay awake during the cold period, acting as a sort of police and bodyguard to the sleeping masses.
The first thing that struck me about the book was that for the first few pages I really didn’t have much of a clue what was going on. Now I’ll admit that doesn’t sound good. But what Fforde has created here is a whole new world, with its own very unique culture, which although linked to ours in some ways is very very different. The book is confident enough to treat the reader like they already know this world, so doesn’t slow things down with tedious exposition or explanations. The result of this strategy is that it takes a few pages to acclimatise yourself to the world and its language and culture, but once you do it all feels so much more real and detailed.
What follows is a fast-paced adventure story with plenty of twists and turns and a great cast of wacky characters. You definitely get the sense that the ‘wakers’, those who do not hibernate, all suffer mentally in some way as a result. The characters you meet along Charlie’s journey all appear to have interesting personality disorders, ranging from little quirks to those who seem pretty much completely unhinged from reality. It makes for a fun ride.
The more supernatural elements of the book are also refreshingly original. There are no tired rehashes of Tolkiens elves or goblins here. I won’t say more for fear of ruining anything but rest assured Fforde’s fantastic imagination does not seem to have dimmed any since his last book.
So I have no hesitation in heartily recommending this novel, and to pre-existing Fforde fans who might be nervous after such a long wait for a new book: Fear not! It’s a cracker.