First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde is the fifth of the Thursday Next novels. The premise is easy enough. Thursday Next has the ability to cross over between the "real" world and the book world, leaping in and out of fiction and nonfiction, to fix narrative problems, correcting mistakes, and more. And, often, the story is quite amusing. Who wouldn't find it funny to imagine that Jude the Obscure was once the "most rip-roaringly funny novel in the English language" (41). Okay. Perhaps someone unfamiliar with Thomas Hardy but it's Fforde's love of literature, his ability to play with the canon, and the quirky worlds he has created that make the series so much fun.
I loved the fourth book and was looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, I would have to say that I like it about as much as I did the third, which was not very much. I can set aside the author's peculiar penchant for repetition, explaining more than once in this novel alone why the Bookworld is not as vivid as the Outworld.
The pacing of this novel seems to be especially off. The story starts very slowly. I can easily see why the person who loaned this to me said they were unable to finish it. When the pace finally starts to pick up, it is suddenly dropped again, slowing down so much that I would imagine many people lose interest before completing the novel. I wish I had been so lucky because, once the action picks up again and things start happening, there is a clear conclusion before the narrative continues, leading up to a cliffhanger ending.
I have said many times I do not especially like cliff-hanger endings, especially when they are unanticipated. None of the previous four novels ended in such a blatant manner. I have appreciated and even enjoyed the series more so than not. However, the author’s erratic talent makes me question the quality of the series overall. Two have been especially delightful, one charming if flawed, and now two have been a let-down. There are other series that offer weaker books, where the author doesn’t quite live up to the strength of previous works (e.g. the Discworld books, Dragons of Pern, Wheel of Time). Unfortunately, Fforde seems to be more weak than strong, in the end, and I may read another Thursday Next novel if it were recommended to me but I would not go out of my way to seek it.