A winter nightmare in snow-bound Wales.
Imagine a world where human inhabitants must bulk-up and hibernate through brutally cold winters, watched over by armed Winter Consuls, a group of officers who diligently guard the susceptible sleeping citizens. Or do they?
“Early Riser” is the latest novel from bestselling author Jasper Fforde.
A unique and inventive writer, Welsh resident Jasper Fforde creates a mystery novel with skewed social values, high level corruption, bureaucratic cover-ups, bad dreams, mindlessness and the ever-present fear of freezing to death, all set in a bleak yet frighteningly droll otherworld in Wales.
Perfect for the cold northern hemisphere and a cool read for the hot southern hemisphere.
SPOILER ALERT – Jasper Fforde should have his own genre, writing a review is difficult! Please note the book contains references to real food brand names.
Jasper Fforde is known for creating strong female characters and in “Early Riser” he does not disappoint. Aurora and Toccata immediately spring to mind but I won’t go into details. Let’s just say they are not related to Thursday Next, although there are a couple of fan-fic moments.
In this speculative postmodern standalone, the protagonist is Charlie Worthing, a novice Winter Consul who has been trained to stay alive through the bleakest of winters.
Although rather young and innocent, Charlie is chosen to accompany notable Winter Consul and hero, Jack Logan, to the Douzey, a remote sector in the middle of snow-covered Wales. It’s an honour but Charlie is not at all prepared for what awaits in frigid Sector Twelve.
Part of Charlie’s job is to deal with Tricksy Nightwalkers whose consciousness has been eroded by hibernation and, first up, there’s the care and delivery of a vacant Nightwalker Mrs Tiffen which causes an unexpected disaster.
With a facial deformity which quickly earns him a nickname, poor Charlie learns dreaming is not encouraged. Especially not about a mysterious blue Buick or a large beach parasol, part of the main “Early Riser” plot. He floats in and out of another Charlie’s dream, and also has problems with a young woman, Jonesy, who takes a fancy to him and decides to create their own backstory as if they are an old married couple.
Winter Consuls carry a Thumper and a Bambi which are deadly guns or, for extra grunt, a Vortex Canon is deployed when necessary to blast snow and anything in it. Thus Deputy Charlie begins Pantry Duty, guarding the winter pantry, under the tutelage of seasoned campaigner Fodder – and things get even weirder!
"Dark humour and entertaining pseudo geek-speak punctuate an otherwise intense novel which touches on community issues relevant today" GBW.
In “Early Riser” prominent themes are human relationships, mental health, bad coffee and sugary food as the isolated enclave carbo-load in preparation for the enforced SlumberDown. Certain behaviour, although legal in this story, is reprehensible by our standards. In Sector Twelve nothing is wasted, so-called Vacants become unpaid workers or body-farmed for those who have lost limbs due to rat gnawing or frost bite.
In most of Jasper Fforde’s tales, the world is run by an evil corporation and here we have HiberTech which supplies Morphenox drugs and encourages the growing of a winter “coat” for hibernation. Charlie encounters The Notable Goodnight, shivers hearing the maybe-less-than-mythical Gronk, and has a shock meeting with posh Villains. Snowy dangers abound, like WinterVolk and Campaigners For Real Sleep. Classic Fforde!
I listened to the “Early Riser” audio book and narrator Thomas Hunt does a variety of accents which keep the pacing levels high. His Attenborough-like chapter introductions are hilarious, a blend of hushed tones and Fforde’s dry wit. Wales comes across as a kind of decimated never-never land, and I’m sure it’s not, but thankfully snow is a rare commodity in Australia otherwise I’d be shaking in my shoes.
+ PLUS Innovative story with a world in a world, the snowbound and the dream-state.
– MINUS Some repetition and some chapters are heavy with world-building.
Book rating 4-Star and recommended for readers who can handle comprehensively quirky writing.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
“Jasper Fforde writes…authentic tales of metafictional mystery and murder most horrid lashed with literary wit and a generous helping of humour.” by Niall Alexander of tor.com Fri Aug 3, 2018 1:30pm