This is a new standalone story from Jasper Fforde who I am a real fan of. In practice he has written nothing for some years now and I was a little worried and pleased when I got my review copy. This is set in Wales though not the Wales we know. In this story we are loosely in the current era however Wales enjoys temperatures in the winter that can descend to lower than -50 degrees. In the main inhabitants hibernate and have done so for years. A few people do stay awake. The Winter Consuls are one group who keep order over that period. The Hibertech corporation also works through the winter. The other humans awake are largely unfortunates or criminals – in either case food is very important to them.
Cue the arrival of Charlie. Charlie is an orphan of sorts and desperate to leave the institution he is in. He joins the Winter Consuls as a novice. Novices lives tend to be short and the first winter takes a toll. It’s bizarre and is very Jasper Fforde.
While Early Riser is wildly inventive it does take some scene/world setting. This seemed to slow down the first third or so for me quite a bit. Charlie’s first “simple” job does not go well and he is stranded in Sector 12, loosely mid Wales, which has a bad reputation for all kinds of things. In particular it appears that a viral dream make be killing people off It is also a centre for the Hibertech corporation. Fforde has a penchant for manipulative, shady corporations and this is no exception. Throw in the Womads and Wintervolk and almost anything could happen. Charlie – or Wonky as he prefers NOT to be known – finds himself in the centre of everything that is going on.
As far as the key components are concerned there is great humour here and the characters are rich and interesting. Aurora and Toccata are wonderful creations for example. Charlie too is excellent. Charlie actually has a feel of Eddie in Shades of Grey for me (although it is a while ago I read it). Maybe the basic outline has some similarities too – state/corporations plots to do what? The writing is very effective; simple in some senses and yet complex enough to be interesting. I did find it is best if the reading can be sustained.
For me Early Riser is definitely not Fforde’s best work. As I said the first part of the book seemed rather slow. The book became progressively faster, clearer and more appealing as time went on. The graph of my enjoyment went up and up as the temperature went down and down! Ultimately it was great to read a new book by Jasper Fforde and I enjoyed it. I sincerely hope that he can now add to Shades of Grey because that first book is probably one of my all time favourites – more please Mr Fforde!
Note – I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review