Book Review – Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

books, reviews

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve had this book for a while now and never even attempted to pick it up. It’s the first book by Jasper Fforde that I’ve tried to read but I know of him. By which I mean I’ve heard of his Thursday Next series but never bothered to read them. They just sounded a bit too whimsical for my liking. In reality, I’d probably enjoy them but I just haven’t had the inclination. This sounded too good to ignore and I always prefer a standalone to a series. It sort of sounded like Snowpiercer and was released during the time when I was still fully obsessed with that film. So, I bought it and, last month, I finally decided to read it. Mostly because I’m pretty short of E book titles.

Going into Early Riser, I had very few expectations for what the story was going to be. I’d not read anything by Jasper Fforde before, so his writing style was a bit of a mystery. Did this book convince me to give him more of a chance? I can’t say that it did. It’s not that there wasn’t anything to like about it but I did find it to be a bit of a slog to get to the end. It’s just so dense and there is so much exposition. The story gets so bogged down with world-building but, at the same time, I never felt as though I learnt anything about the world these characters were inhabiting. It’s really bizarre.

I get that we’re in an alternate universe version of Wales where the Winter months are deadly and that human beings are able to hibernate to survive. Well, except a select bunch of people who work during these months or want to use the isolation for their nefarious deeds. One of the workers is our protagonist, Charlie Worthing. Charlie is experiencing the season for the first time as a novice Winter Consul. Called upon to investigate a case of viral dreams, Charlie quickly gets pulled into a conspiracy that will prove difficult to overcome. Charlie quickly needs to figure out who to trust in order to survive.

First off, I think it was really interesting that Charlie’s gender wasn’t specified throughout the novel. It might just seem like a quirk but it really enabled the reader to create their own image of the main character. It’s a clever idea that works pretty well. I think the problem with Early Riser as a whole is that it is maybe too clever. There is so much going on that you’re just inundated with details but details that you don’t really have time to take in. I’m a huge fan of great world-building. However, I can’t in all honesty say this is good world-building. I’m not sure that I had enough of a sense of the world by the end of the book as I feel I should have. I mean, I’d just read 400 odd pages and still had so many questions.

There are a lot of details and, more importantly, there are plenty of fun details. The way that this reality resembles our own means that there is plenty of opportunity for comedy. The novel seems to evoke a range of different genres and takes inspiration from a range of pop culture. This means that narrative wise, it’s not really very shocking how the story turns out. Perhaps that’s why it feels like such an effort to get to the end. It’s pretty clear where we’re going and who the bad guy is. So, taking the long way round seems a bit unnecessary at times. It would be different if I felt more immersed in the fictional world but, for me, it just felt a bit laborious.

Early Riser isn’t a terrible book but it just feels quite familiar. It’s kind of derivative and the plot doesn’t necessarily stand up to scrutiny. The more attention you pay to it, the more holes you might find. Also, the less said about the pacing the better. The first 3 quarters of the book seem to go at a snail’s pace and then, suddenly, it’s all over. The most exciting part of the book is so rushed that I’m not even sure how the whole thing was resolved. It’s actually kind of frustrating. However, if you want to wade through this very detailed world of winter and you like super quirky narratives, then you might like to give this a try.

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