Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten (Viking, 2004)

Jurisfiction is the name given to the policing agency inside books. Working with the intelligence-gathering capabilities of Text Grand Central, the many Prose Resource Operatives at Jurisfiction work tirelessly to maintain the continuity of the narrative within the pages of all the books ever written. Performing this sometimes thankless task, Jurisfiction agents live mostly on their wits as they attempt to reconcile the author's original wishes and readers' expectations against a strict and largely pointless set of bureaucratic guidelines laid down by the Council of Genres. I headed Jurisfiction for over two years and was always astounded by the variety of the work: one day I might be attempting to coax the impossibly shy Darcy from the toilets, and the next I would be thwarting the Martians' latest attempt to invade Barnaby Rudge. It was challenging and full of bizarre twists. But when the peculiar and downright weird becomes commonplace, you begin to yearn for the banal.

Thursday Next, The Jurisfiction Chronicles — chapter one heading, Something Rotten

It's been an exceptionally good summer for fiction reading for me, with this being one of the better reads. And that's saying something as I've finished not one, but two Charles Stross works (Iron Sunrise and The Atrocity Archives), Kage Baker's Mother Aegypt collection, and Neal Asher's The Skinner novel, to name just some of what I've read! All were excellent but for sheer fun nothing beats reading a Thursday Next novel for the first time. If I may make a comparison of a literary nature, what the Thursday Next series reminds me most strongly of is the metaverse that Robert Heinlein was attempting to create in his later novels, particularly The Cat Who Walked Through Walls and The Number of The Beast. The difference is that this metaverse is truly grounded in a culture (England) in a way that the future histories of Heinlein weren't grounded in anything more than a vague reflection of the Midwestern upbringing of the author.

The first reviewer at Green Man to review this series was Michael M. Jones, who looked at the first novel in this series, The Eyre Affair:

Fforde has created a truly unique, fascinating new world, filled with over-the-top characters and an unforgettable atmosphere. This is the sort of book Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett might have created if they'd ground up Dickens and Lewis Carroll for some highly unorthodox cigars, and gotten schnackered one fine weekend. The humor is unconventional, the literary tributes unmistakable, and the plot highly original. This is a world where people go to Richard III in the same way they might see the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the real world, right down to the audience participation. This is a world where just about anything can happen, and seems rather likely to happen anyway. Time-traveling literary detectives, extinct species brought back as pets, a villain worthy of any hero, and enough twists to keep even the most scholarly of English majors bemused.
Michael's review only touches upon some of the more fascinating inhabitants of this metaverse as he didn't mention all, nor shall I as it would spoil the fun of you discovering what's going on.

Which rather neatly brings me to a problem — how to describe what's going on without giving anything away as regards the plot in Something Rotten. I am going to assume that you've read the first three books, so go away now if you haven't. Go get the first three volumes without delay, get a cup of tea, and settle into your favorite comfy reading chair for some of the the finest reading you'll ever have the pleasure to do!

Are they gone? Good. Now back to The Good Stuff.

The Good Stuff is that Jasper Fforde has managed to be even funnier, more punning, and just plain odd than he was in the first three novels. (Though the Goliath Corporation hasn't yet claimed a trademark on The Good Stuff, I expect they will by the end of the review. Unless they travel back in time and do it . . . Bloody Hell, they did!) Yes, the Goliath Corporation is once again making life miserable for Thursday, who wants nothing more than to be back in the reality outside of Book World with her retroactively nonexistent husband sleeping by her side while their baby is safe in her crib. Yes, Goliath is promising the eradication of Landen will happen real soon now. Provided that Thursday forgives them for their sins as the Goliath Corporation has decided to be an oppressive transnational religion instead of an oppressive transnational corporation. And the fictional character Yorick Kaine, aiming to be the first true dictator of England, has agreed to help the Goliath Corporation in its quest to transform itself.

Despite the incredibly interesting plot lines, what I like most about this series are the characters here. The Well of Lost Plots was not as appealing to me as the first two books; many of my favorite characters were not present as that novel focused mainly on Thursday and her Book World adventures. It isn't just Thursday Next I like, but all of them, including the almost lovable henchmen for the Goliath Corporation. Characters that were absent from The Well of Lost Plots have at least guest appearances in Something Rotten — Spike, Mycroft and Polly, Joffy, Thursday's Mum, Thursday's Dad who's been uneradicated, Emma Hamilton, and her husband, Landen. All are here in their ever-so-eccentric Englishness.

Time travel... Characters from book stepping out in the real world... Scruffy prophets interested in, oh, never mind. . . . Really bad puns. . . . Shakespearean actors intent on seeing what the public thinks of them. . . . Shakespearean clones intent on giving a million monkeys a run for their money. . . . A six foot high talking hedgehog. . . . More really bad puns. . . . A mad Dictator straight out of a truly bad Space Opera who likes Grand Entrances. . . . Extreme croquet. . . . Can Thursday Next deal with all this while tending to her baby and watching her husband fade in and out of existence? Will she find the perfect slice of toast as defined by the Toast Marketing board? (I'm serious — go see the Welcome to the Toast Marketing board Web site and explore the rest of the Thursday Next Web site.) Jasper Fforde is every bit as brilliant in this series as Douglas Adams was in The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy series. It's that good. Indeed I could say that it's even better plotted with more memorable characters than that venerable series but that will take a few more readings to say that with certainty. I do know that, like Kage Baker's 'The Company' series, I eagerly look forward to each new novel, and am disappointed when I finish it. This is truly The Good Stuff.

[Cat Eldridge]