The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
This is a novel I’ve been thinking of reviewing for a while. It’s “The Eyre Affair” by a Brit named Jasper Fforde. It’s a really unusual book — the background itself is one of the best selling points of the book and the series, so let’s take a look at that in a little more detail.
The story is set in an alternate universe — it’s the ’80s in England, the monarchy doesn’t exist, the UK and imperial Russia have been fighting the Crimean War for over a century, the country is mostly ruled by an evil megacorp called the Goliath Corporation. Time travel is fairly common, as is cloning — dodos are now common pets, wooly mammoths roam the British countryside, and neanderthals are members of English society.
And the biggest change — literature, especially classic literature, is hugely popular. We’re talking popularity on the level of professional sports or long-running TV shows or major religions. People rename themselves for their favorite literary characters. People take pilgrimages to museums where the first drafts of famous novels are stored. Literary controversies are major elements of political elections. Book crimes are so common, there’s actually a branch of the police that investigates them.
Which brings us to our main character — a woman named Thursday Next, who is a member of the Literature Detective division of SpecOps. Her father was a former time cop, now erased from history but somehow still able to drop by for occasional visits. And her Uncle Mycroft is a mad scientist who specializes in inventing sometimes useless inventions that are nevertheless amazing and impossible.
Thursday has to help capture a supervillain named Acheron Hades after he steals the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’ “Martin Chuzzlewit,” but the raid goes bad, several SpecOps agents are killed, and Thursday is hospitalized. And soon, Hades kidnaps her uncle and aunt and takes Mycroft’s greatest invention — the Prose Portal, which allows people in the real world to enter novels. His ultimate goal? To kidnap Jane Eyre — from Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” naturally — and hold her for ransom. Can Thursday save British literature? Can she stop the evil and spectacularly powerful Acheron Hades? Can she get revenge on the Goliath Corporation? Can she survive entering the surprisingly dangerous world of “Jane Eyre”? Can she find true love? And what effect will all this lunacy have on her future and career?
Verdict: Thumbs up. Yeah, it has classic British literature as its focus point, but you shouldn’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a stuffy textbook. It’s amazing how much humor and action get packed into this one. It’s an extremely clever and engaging sci-fi/fantasy novel, with outstanding characters, dialogue, intrigue, and excitement, and it’s the type of thing that can get you addicted fast — which is a good thing, because there is a whole series of Thursday Next novels out there for you to enjoy. But you should definitely start with the first one, so go pick it up.