If you haven’t read the first five “Thursday Next” fantasy-comedy-mystery-thrillers, or at least my reviews of them, I’m not sure how to begin to describe Book 6 to you. There’s just so much going on in them. Whether it is worth your while to find out what you’re missing, you may judge from a personal anecdote: While listening to Emily Gray reading the audio-book edition of this book during a car trip, I once had to pull over until I could regain my composure, I was laughing so hard. Only once, to be sure; but laughs of one size or another crowded thickly into this brainy, zany, complex, amazing book.
Some fans of Thursday Next may be disappointed to find out that the “real” Thursday barely appears in this installment. The narrator and main protagonist is actually the “written” Thursday—which is to say, the character in Bookworld who headlines the cast of the Thursday Next series in the reader’s imagination. You see why I said this was going to be hard to explain.
Thursday—I mean the “real” Thursday, who lives in a somewhat daft alternate-history version of present day Swindon, U.K.—is a woman of many parts. As a Spec Ops detective, she used to investigate the really weird crimes, such as those involving time travel, extraterrestrials, and (her specialty) fictional characters running loose in the real world. In Bookworld, meanwhile, she is a top-tier agent of Jurisfiction, one of the few who can move freely between the two worlds. Besides all this she moonlights as a wife, mother, carpet salesperson, cheese smuggler (please don’t ask), slayer of the undead, nemesis of the evil Goliath Corporation, and championship croquet team manager. She has saved the world multiple times and eluded about six dozen attempts on her own life. But now she has disappeared somewhere in Bookworld, and it couldn’t happen at a worse time.
The written Thursday, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be cut out of the same cloth. Less assertive, more tree-huggy, and plagued by relationship problems—such as being in love with the husband who exists only in the real world but not in the books. She washed out of Jurisfiction training and now, when not appearing in her out-of-print and seldom-read series, serves as a Bookworld accident investigator who can be counted on when a lousy investigation is needed. She gets just such a case when an unidentified book in transit over fictional airspace crashes and leaves a swath of debris across the thriller genre. All she needs to do is find that it is an unprecedented and unrepeatable accident, but instead she picks up the scent of a conspiracy that could rock the whole Bookworld.
Meanwhile, she has to find the real Thursday in time for sensitive peace talks with Speedy Muffler, the renegade leader of Racy Novel. And as the case progresses, she grows less and less sure that she isn’t the real Thursday herself, suffering from delusions of being the written one. She would like it to be true—after a tantalizing but confusing visit to the real world and a near-kiss with her beloved Landen, oh! doesn’t she!—but a nagging intuition persists in telling her that hear real-world counterpart is hurt but alive, somewhere in Bookworld.
As each new clue brings written Thursday closer to understanding how her two cases fit together, she increasingly wishes that she had the real Thursday’s detection chops—because the more she knows, the less it makes sense. And that’s even taking into account the cracked logic of life as a text-based life-form, in a world where buildings, landscapes, and people—rather than pages—exist between the covers of each book, where raw metaphor is mined and smuggled, where a wind-up butler and a deputy boyfriend with a hideous (but transferable) backstory share space with Men in Plaid driving 1949 Buick Roadmasters, where fan-fiction characters live in a ghetto guarded by game-show hosts armed with eraser-tipped ordnance, where the perception of time is based on length of description, and where participants in a conversation may lose track of who is saying what in the absence of dialog cues. The only thing weirder than Bookworld, from our point of view, is how our world appears to a visitor from Bookworld. And the character who guides us through it all has confusion of her own, as she works out who she really is and what she is capable of.
I have learned, just now, that this is really Book 2 of what is meant to be the second four-book series of Thursday Next novels, starting with First Among Sequels and continuing (after this book) with The Woman Who Died a Lot. A release date has not yet been announced for Book 4, currently titled Dark Reading Matter. Meanwhile, author Fforde (which, according to Emily Gray, is pronounced “Ford”) is also working on two other series of novels, titled “Last Dragonslayer” and “Shades of Grey.”