The feverish inventiveness of Jasper Fforde’s latest novel is exhaustive — and at times exhausting. His imagined world is thoroughly packed with detail, but reading lines such as, 'He’s womad stock; Oldivician, I think. Part of his midwinter freezerthon,' can make you wilt ... Fforde’s comic touch — which includes unexpected references to everything from Showaddywaddy to Tunnock’s teacakes — just about balances out the geekery of this alternate reality, and the thriller side of the tale is addictively propulsive.
... Early Riser has all of the elements and sensibility that have earned Fforde a sizable and devoted following: wordplay, allusion, a playful exuberance and — of course — his signature method of World-Building via Copious and Suggestive Use of Capitalization, often in the service of creating Imaginary Socioeconomic Hierarchies and Related Governmental Agencies ... Fforde writes witty, chewy sentences, full of morsels, and delivers them deadpan ... There is a sense of wanting it all to add up to a bit more. To feel that the witticisms and allusions are not only clever but insightful ... It’s not so much that the book is less than the sum of its parts. It’s just that there are so many parts. Early Riser, while never underwritten, can be at times a bit underfelt, the verbal dexterity crowding out the room for emotion ... The flip side of the whimsicality, of skipping along, is wanting to slow down at times, to deepen our feelings about the characters ... But Fforde brings it around in the end. His relentless imagination and his affection for his characters are contagious and irresistible ... Early Riser may not be my favorite of his novels, but I laughed and had fun. As long as he keeps his literary party going, I’ll keep dropping in.
Readers familiar with Fforde’s gleefully pun-heavy world building will relish this stand-alone novel, confident that everything will work out in the end for the underdog. Give it to fans of John Scalzi and Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series.
Jasper Fforde is in fine form in his 14th novel, stringing along this adventure with wry wit, a sometimes-bonkers plot and a joke that takes a hundred pages to sneakily find its punchline. If not for the absurdity of the tale, Early Riser could’ve easily been a mere allegory of the dangers of global warming and Big Pharma. But what matters most is the nature of humanity, as empathy saves the day, and our good guy has no reason to wonder just how good he is.
How to describe Jasper Fforde’s Early Riser... ? As an absurdist thriller? Fantasy or speculative fiction? Social satire? Love story? Worst travelogue about Wales ever? Answer: All of the above. It’s a shaggy, gleeful mashup of all that and more. Sometimes overcooked and frustrating, but never boring ... In Early Riser, you can expect more seriously goofy characters, blindingly inventive plots and deep pools of dubious puns, along with occasional serious points about the dangers of social engineering and capitalist greed ... Advice to readers: Don’t be daunted by the book’s initial blizzard of puzzling jargon, or by the (sometimes overburdened) plotlines. It’s worth it. Don’t skip the footnotes or you’ll miss some good jokes, like the reference to a drug called Kenorbarbydol.
Oft-amusing, but only occasionally likely to elicit laughs, and as imaginative as anything he’s ever written, if woefully overburdened by worldbuilding, Fforde’s long-awaited new novel is ultimately a bunch of fun, yet it fails to leave a lasting impression like the likes of Shades of Grey, say ... interesting in the end, and full of neat ideas that hold a far-from-flattering mirror to elements of our own existence, but so poorly paced and plot heavy that the remainder is the rub. Similarly, the setting is engrossing and almost criminally original, but Albion is a world built on the back of interminable info-dumps and masses of jargon. And all this hangs on a central character who might be witty and well-meaning, but proves so exasperatingly passive that even he might as well be asleep ... has a lot to say and, for the most part, says it in an interesting way. The message, in short, is sound—but the medium, in this particular instance? Maybe not so much.
However, in the end, Early Riser is a bit disjointed and confusing, though still often funny and insightful ... [The book] can feel a bit chaotic and hard to manage, even though it is so intriguing. Overall, this is a great tale, overburdened and maybe overwritten, but compelling enough to shine in some cool ways ... Dedicated and diligent readers will find much to savor in Early Riser.
Charlie’s journey through the especially isolated and dangerous area called Sector Twelve is so absorbing, and Fforde’s wit so sharp, the reveal that the narrative is also a commentary on capitalism comes across as a brilliant twist. Fforde writes in the acknowledgments that he hopes to return to a quicker publishing schedule, but this wonderful tale was well worth the wait ... Whip-smart, tremendous fun, and an utter delight from start to finish.