Early Riser by Jasper Fforde, Review: Topical dystopian flair

Early Riser, Jasper Fforde’s latest standalone novel, is a clever zany adventure. But it took me a while to find my reading groove in the first-person narrative and Fforde’s peculiar alternate world.

Jasper Fforde Early Riser reviewEarly Riser Synopsis

Imagine a world where all humans must hibernate through a brutally cold winter, their bodies dangerously close to death as they enter an ultra-low metabolic state of utterly dreamless sleep. All humans, that is, apart from the Winter Consuls, a group of officers who diligently watch over the vulnerable sleeping citizens.

Charlie Worthing is a novice, chosen by a highflying hero Winter Consul to accompany him to the Douzey, a remote sector in the middle of Wales, to investigate a dream which is somehow spreading amongst those in the hibernational state, causing paranoia, hallucination and a psychotic episode that can end in murder.

Worthing has been trained to deal with Tricksy Nightwalkers whose consciousness has been eroded by hibernation, leaving only one or two skills and an incredible hunger; he’s been trained to stay alive through the bleakest and loneliest of winters – but he is in no way prepared for what awaits him in Sector Twelve. There are no heroes in Winter, Worthing has been told. And he’s about to find out why…

(Hodder & Stoughton Hachette Australia, August 2018)

Genre: Action-Adventure, Literature, Humour, Drama, Sci-Fi-Fantasy, Mystery

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In 2012 I read Jasper Fforde’s first novel The Eyre Affair (published in 2001) and loved it. The words I used at the time were ‘wacky, zany and addictive – candy in a book’.

I vowed I’d be going back for more from this talented author, and quickly. But as so often happens, the endless stream of new releases did not let up and I failed to make time for the Thursday Next Literary Detective Series. So when I saw that Jasper Fforde was releasing this standalone novel, I knew it it was the perfect time to reconnect with his writing!

A slow start

It took me some time to get into Early Riser, a little while to find my reading groove. This is not necessarily a flaw in Fforde’s writing, just the confluence of a first-person narrative (character narrator not being in a position of full-knowledge) and the alternate world being both highly peculiar yet eerily similar to our own.

The level of detail and wry humour, including pop culture references and social commentary, Fforde conjures up and weaves into his world-building is something to admire. However, the flipside to that is these tangential details do slow the pace.

The boffins had said it was only a matter of time before the gasses managed to lock in some global heat, but every year it grew colder, the glaciers advanced some more, the growing season shorter. But for us, at least there was a positive: Wales made up much of its revenue from the CO2 release tariffs, negotiated early on, when six times higher than they are now.

Topical dystopian flair

The environmental issues that plague the world our plucky hero Charlie (gender never specified) lives in are cleverly opposite to our own, and zombie-like people (those who fail to wake from Morphenox-induced dreamless slumber) are utilised as cheap labour and body parts.
“We don’t serve the dead in here.”
“I’m not asking you to serve her,” I retorted, “I’m asking you to serve me… who will then serve her.”
“The answer’s no. Her dead body in here over my dead body in here.”
“Linguistically that was quite … poetic.” I conceded, “a chiasmus, I think?”
“Closer to polyptoton, my guess. Now why don’t you take the abomination and piss off?”

Linguistic humour

Some of the oddball humour that I thoroughly enjoyed will not be to everyone’s tastes, but the occasional linguistic sparring should delight all avid readers.

When Charlie gets a whiff of something rotten the story’s pace quickens and I was hooked.

The beauty of Fforde’s writing is the surprises he leaves for readers to find along the journey, so much is best left unsaid, as it was in respect to some story elements early on in the Early Riser. Suffice to say one zany adventure ensues…

I’ll simply end with

(1) a warning not to expect every loose end to be tied, and

(2) a little treat for those, who like me, bemoan the declining value placed on spelling, and high standards in general.

“She punched me in the eye so hard she detached my retina,” he said, “and all I did was place the preposition on the end of the sentence.”
“That’s grounds for an investigation, certainly a reprimand, maybe even charges,” I said, “against Toccata,” I added in case he misunderstood me. But Fodder shook his head.
“You don’t understand. She’s harsh, but she’ll back up her team 100%. Besides, I’d already been warned three times.”
“He had, you know,” said Laura, “she’s very big on spelling, too. Often holds a surprise bee to try and catch us out. I got ‘Algonquin’ wrong and she wouldn’t speak to me for two weeks.”

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.25 / 5  —  Overall 4.15

Get your copy of Jasper Fforde’s Early Riser from:

Amazon Bookshop US Bookshop US Booktopia AU

Reading Update: We have also since read and reviewed Jasper Fforde’s iconic novel Shades of Grey.

Early Riser Animated Book Cover – Source: Youtube

About the Author, Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde spent twenty years in the film business before debuting on the New York Times bestseller list with The Eyre Affair in 2001. Since then he has written another twelve novels, including the Number One Sunday Times bestseller One of our Thursdays is Missing, and the Last Dragonslayer series, adapted for television by Sky.

Fforde lives and works in his adopted nation of Wales.

Visit his website, find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

* Receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.

This review counts towards my participation in the 2018 New Release Challenge.