I will be featuring some of my favorite authors in an aspired new monthly feature, and I begin with Jasper Fforde. He wrote about shades of grey before that atrocious series stole his series title, his Thursday Next is one of my favorite sleuths ever, the nursery crime series is sublimely silly, and who doesn’t like dragons? The one author I would mention in the same sentence as Jasper Fforde is Douglas Adams. Both are my faves, and both are (sadly, in the case of Adams, “were”) absolutely unique writers. I may write about Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe another day.
I first met Fforde’s books when a friend recommended the first in the Thursday Next series, “The Eyre Affair”, and I was immediately hooked. As an English major and an avid reader, I found the world Fforde constructed in the Next series just irresistible and utterly bonkers. Set in a slightly alternate universe to ours, Thursday Next solves crimes that take place in the literary world. First about books, then in books. The books also have a crackpot inventor uncle, a father whose face can stop time, an addlepated cloned dodo, virulent cheeses, evil masterminds, a Crimean War that never ended, Jurisfiction that polices the Bookworld, and a husband that sometimes exist. To tell you any more would be to rob you of the pleasure of discovering the series yourself. Do it. Get hooked!
The Nursery Crimes series includes only two books, and is set in the same universe as the Thursday book novels. They feature a neighborhood where all characters are from nursery rhymes. Who knew Humpty Dumpty was such a ladies’ man? Or that the Gingerbreadman was such a dangerous criminal? The stories are told from the perspective of detective sargent Mary Mary (her of the Quite Contrary fame) who labors away at the under appreciated Nursery Crimes division with her boss, Jack Spratt. The nursery crime fates come true in unexpected and delightful ways. When is a giant a giant and when just a very tall man?
The Last Dragonslayer is the first book in the series bearing its name, and it is about magic, wizards and dragons. The main character is Jennifer Strange, a young orphan who manages a wizarding agency in the inexplicable absence of its wizard manager Mr Zambini. Jennifer has a pet Quarkbeast who, like all quarkbeasts, is terrifying and adorable, and above all, fiercely loyal to his owner. Jennifer has to manage the unruly wizards in the face of weak kings, trolls, fading magic, the last dragon, a spoiled princess, and the warring nations within the Ununited Kingdoms.
And lastly, the Shades of Grey series, the weirdest of them all, which so far only has the one book. The story is set in Chromatacia, a world where all people only see one hue. The hue they see determines their social status, with Ultraviolet being the highest order and Greys the lowest. Surnames refer tot the colors the families see, such as Russets, Ochres, deMauves, and the poor Greys who do not see any color but the aforementioned shades of grey. Doctors cure illnesses by prescribing color, shades of green are abused as drugs, and the rulers of the dystopian nation set arbitrary laws (like outlawing spoon manufacturing). The story is one of the most surprising and bizarre I’ve ever read and perhaps my favorite of all of Jasper’s books. Please, kind sir, hurry up and finish the second book?
If you are looking for something original, funny and definitely off kilter, you can’t do much better than Jasper Fforde.
Note: All images are from Jasper Fforde’s website, which is a treasure trove of the weird and wonderful.