Once upon a time, not so very long ago at all, you could set your watch by Jasper Fforde. This was way back when we wore watches that needed setting, but something else was significantly different in those distant days too. Something must have been, because from his debut with The Eyre Affair in 2001 until relatively recently, the former focus puller managed to put out a book a year with the kind of effortless ease that made other authors look lazy. These weren’t just books, either: these were remarkably good books, clever, funny and unexpectedly authentic tales of metafictional mystery and murder most horrid lashed with literary wit and a generous helping of humour.
Then came the 2014 release of the last of The Last Dragonslayer saga: the final volume of an arguably slighter series for younger readers that nevertheless delighted this miserable old critic. When 2015 came and went without a new book bearing the aforementioned funny man’s brand, I was crestfallen, but fine. In 2016, alas, I started to get antsy. Then came 2017: a terrible year for any number of reasons, of which perhaps the most overlooked is that it bore no new Jasper Fforde book. This year, though, the author brings his unexpected “creative hiatus” to a conclusion with Early Riser, a satirical standalone fantasy about social control and sleepy people which, given the length of time it took, I expected to be among his best efforts. Either that or a dreadful mess.
Early Riser is neither, which goes to show what I know. 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.