Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date – 2 August 2018
One of modern literature’s quirkiest writers returns after a six-year hiatus to produce the eccentric and incredibly entertaining new release, Early Risers.
In an alternate version of our Earth, the entire world freezes over each winter, plunging the planet into a deep cold for the entire season. Humanity has adjusted to this different climate by developing ways to hibernate each winter, sleeping through the long, cold months in specially designed habitations and ensuring that their bodies have enough stored fat to keep them alive. Only a few weird and unconventional individuals choose to ignore their bodies’ need to sleep, and instead spend winter awake. One such group are the Winter Consuls, a collection of misfits and rogues responsible for ensuring the safety of the sleeping population, whilst also patrolling against the horrors of the winter world.
In Wales, Charlie Worthing is about to experience his first winter as a new recruit in the Winter Consuls. His first mission sees him drawn to Sector Twelve, base of the powerful HiberTech company and one of the most disreputable areas of the country, known for its controversial Winter Consuls. Trapped within this sector, Charlie must contend with all the dangers that winter can hold. Between the cold, his desire to fall asleep, the stamp-collecting addicted Villains, the mindless and cannibalistic Nightwalkers and the possibly mythical WinterVolk, Charlie is unlikely to survive his first winter.
However, all these threats pale in comparison to the damaging potential of a viral dream being passed around the inhabitants of Sector Twelve. When Charlie starts to have the same dream, he finds himself thrust into a dangerous conspiracy with world changing consequences. As Charlie becomes a target, he must work out who in this unforgiving world he can really trust, and who is using him to further their own aims.
Jasper Fforde is an exceptional author who has produced several novels since his 2001 debut, all of which were remarkable and very different from your standard read. With an unusual style and superb skill, Fforde’s work is reminiscent of some of the novels produced by authors such as Terry Pratchett or Lemony Snicket. Fforde has created some enjoyable and addictive reads over the years, including Shades of Grey, the Nursery Crime Division books and his exceptional Thursday Next series. Early Riser is a standalone novel that takes the reader to another unique alternate Earth and presents them with an intriguing and very original story.
Fforde has a pattern of creating unique worlds to act as settings for his entertaining narratives. These worlds often have elaborate rules and details that make the book’s story very distinctive. For example, Shades of Grey is set in a world where people can only perceive limited shades of colour and social hierarchy is determined by how many shades and hues a person can identify. The Thursday Next series is set in an alternate version of Earth where the Crimea War never ended, time travel exists and journeys into the literary world is both possible and heavily policed by characters from famous books.
Fforde continues this trend in Early Riser, creating another detailed alternate Earth setting. This version of Earth experiences exceedingly cold winters and humanity has to hibernate each year as a result. This is an absolutely eccentric and inventive concept, and it is fascinating to see how Fforde adapts a new fictional world around it and looks at how humanity has adapted to having to hibernate. Like several of his other books, the story of Early Riser is set within this world’s version of Wales. There is a focus on different types of technologies, especially those that help people successfully hibernate, different buildings and new societal norms. One example of this is the concept that, in this colder world, larger, fatter people are more desirable and socially acceptable as they are more likely to survive their hibernation period, whilst skinny people, or those who choose not to hibernate, are seen as detrimental wastes of space. Fforde further backs this up by creating an inventive alternate history for the world, including some funny and satirical depictions of an appropriately altered entertainment world. Many elements of these alternate histories and new social norms are told directly within the story, but Fforde also fleshes out these ideas with a huge range of extra and very humorous details in footnotes and in-universe book excerpts at the start of every chapter.
Fforde has also ensured that Early Riser is particularly memorable by filling his story with a range of interesting and creative characters and threats. Throughout the book, the protagonist encounters and examines the history, background and lore behind the threats roaming around the winter. These include the Villains, aristocratic thieves who are the descents of British nobility who act in a stereotypically upper class way and are obsessed with stamp collecting and obtaining domestic servants through force. There are also Nightwalkers, humans whose minds failed to withstand the hibernation process. As a result, the Nightwalkers have been reduced to a zombie-like state and are potentially cannibalistic, although their urges can be controlled with comfort food. Fforde has also included the mysterious WinterVolk, supernatural beings who reside in the winter world and have certain powers and tendencies. There is particular focus on the Gronk, one of the newer WinterVolk, and the author includes discussions about the Gronk’s formation, its first appearance, its habit of taking the unworthy and only leaving behind their carefully folded clothes in the snow, all while singing Rodgers and Hammerstein hits. In addition there are a range of wacky side characters throughout the series. These side characters usually have some sort of zany quirk or a distinctive characteristic that proves to be entertaining for the reader whilst the protagonist often has to play straight man. The standout example of this has to be the two one-eyed women who are both trying to get the protagonist on their side and who share an interesting connection with each other. All of these imaginative literary inventions combine into one substantial and unforgettable story that will charm the reader with its quirky and fun nature.
While it is easy to focus on the unusual and humorous inclusions that Fforde has filled Early Riser with, readers will also enjoy the book’s compelling story. The narrative is very stimulating and enjoyable, as it initially focuses on the protagonist’s introduction to life in the winter world, and then shifts to him attempting to unravel the conspiracy surrounding Sector Twelve. Like many of the other inclusions within this book, the conspiracy is very complex and a tad strange, but it works well as the focus for a central investigative narrative. Readers will enjoy the journey to the end of the mystery, and there are a few interesting twists along the way. Overall, I thought that the inclusions and elements mentioned above worked well with the mystery, and while many of the solutions and suspects are bizarre, the book’s many unique inclusions do not overwhelm the story, but instead enhance it, resulting in a great story.
Jasper Fforde has once again produced a distinctive piece of literature that stands out thanks to its elaborate and original concept, its many fun story details and inclusions, and a solid and gripping central story. Some readers may find the plot and story elements a bit weird, but this book will easily charm those who get in to Early Riser’s unashamed quirkiness and silly nature. This is definitely one of the most inventive books of this entire year and a creative and exceptional new read from a fanciful and fantastic author.