This series has finally slowed down. This isn’t a detraction, just a statement. Picking up more than 14 years after the end of Something Rotten, First Among Sequels just didn’t feel quite the same. Don’t get me wrong, there was absurdity, Fforde’s genius pushes the boundaries and Thursday Next is still a great character, but it just wasn’t the same.
As I mentioned in my post about Something Rotten I found out after I’d started this novel that the last three of the published novels in the Thursday Next series are actually a second series and not the same. It’s a little misleading as websites like Goodreads and Amazon group them together. There’s even a compendium of the first five: A Thursday Next Digital Collection: Novels 1-5 (Amazon Link). If I would’ve known about the time gap and the “separate series” portion I would’ve paused after book four instead of five, but oh well.
What I’m really trying to figure out is whether the book wasn’t as great because Fforde wanted to slow the pace down and make it more complex in a different way or if I just wasn’t as enamored with the older Thursday Next and her family. There were definitely still reveals that were shocking (hello mind worm #2) and I enjoyed the convoluted story around Friday and the time stream, but it just didn’t do it for me quite as well as the first four books.
There were moments where if I were drinking something I would’ve done spit-takes because they were just that humorous at the time:
“If you even think about asking Harry Potter for an autograph, your day ends right now.” (199)
“Why don’t you take your SO-12 buddies and go play in the timestream until dinner?” (259)
“Equally bad, that worthless shit Wirthlass-Schitt might well have the recipe by now and would be hoofing it back to Goliath.” (304)
And then there was the fact that they attempted to turn the Classics into reality TV shows to be re-written and ultimately changed forever. The descriptions of the Bennet’s was hilarious and the attitudes of each in the brief dialogue they had felt right.
“Curvaceous, doe-eyed Jane, twenty-two, is the beauty of the family, with a kindly temperament to match. And if Bingley looks at another woman, hold on for the waterworks! Next in line is the thinker of the house and Mr. Bennet’s favorite: Lizzie, who is twenty. Willful, skillful and adept with words, she is certainly one to watch—never mind the looks, check out the subtext! Third eldest is Mary, who just likes to read and criticize the rest of them. Dreary and unappealing, and we don’t think she’ll last long. Kitty and Lydia are the two youngest of the Bennets and the silliest and most excitable of them all, especially when there’s a uniform around, or even the sniff of a party. Impetuous and uncontrollable—these are the two that all eyes will be riveted upon!” (284)
There was a lot of other stuff too including the Schitt’s making an appearance (see spit-take quotes above) and it definitely felt as if Fforde wrapped a lot of my outstanding questions even if it was with a bit of it happened between the last four and these three type language.
Recommendation: If you read the first four, I’d recommend taking a break and then coming back to this one. I’m still excited to eventually read One of Our Thursdays Is Missing and The Woman Who Died A Lot, but I’m not in as much of a rush, but the hook at the end of this one definitely made me curious!
Opening Line: “The dangerously high level of the stupidity surplus was once again the lead story in The Owl that morning.”
Closing Line: “‘It’s Thursday,’ I panted, running to get clear of the airship before it hit the ground, ‘and I think we’ve got a situation…'” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from First Among Sequels
“Unlike previous governments that had skillfully managed to eke out our collective stupidity all year round, the current administration had decided to store it all up and then blow it on something unbelievably dopey, arguing that one major balls-up every ten years or so was less damaging than a weekly helping of mild political asininity. The problem was, the surplus had reached absurdly high levels, where it had even surpassed the “monumentally dumb” mark. Only a blunder of staggering proportions would remove the surplus, and the nature of this mind-numbing act of idiocy was a matter of considerable media speculation.” (2)
“I wanted the series to be a thought-provoking romp around literature; a book for people who like stories or a story for people who like books. It wasn’t to be. The first four in the series had been less a lighthearted chronicling of my adventures and more of a ‘Dirty Harry meets Fanny Hill,’ but with a good deal more sex and violence.” (7)
“Reality TV was to me the worst form of entertainment—the modern equivalent of paying sixpence to watch lunatics howling at the walls down at the local mad house.” (27)
“Reading, I had learned, was as creative a process as writing, sometimes more so. When we read of the dying rays of the setting sun or the boom and swish of the incoming tide, we should reserve as much praise for ourselves as for the author. After all, the reader is doing all the work—the writer might have died long ago.” (52)
“Suffice it to say that there was room on the hangar floor for not only Darcy’s country home of Pemberley but also Rosings, Netherfield and Longbourn as well. They had all been hoisted from the book by a massive overhead crane so the empty husk of the novel could be checked for fatigue cracks before being fumigated for nesting grammasites and then repainted. At the same time, an army of technicians, plasterers, painters, carpenters and so forth were crawling over the houses, locations, props, furnishings and costumes, all of which had been removed for checking and maintenance.” (91)
“They would notice the slight dulling and lack of vitality, but, unable to come to a satisfactory answer as to why this might be so, they will simply blame themselves—a reading later in the week will once again renew their confidence in the magnificence of the novel.” (91-92)
“The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that we’re not in the book industry. This isn’t a publishing meeting with sales targets, goals, market research and focus groups. The book may be the delivery medium, but what we’re actually peddling here is story. Humans like stories. Humans need stories. Stories are good. Stories work. Story clarifies and captures the essence of the human spirit. Story, in all its forms—of life, of love, of knowledge—has traced the upward surge of mankind. And story, you mark my words, will be with the last human to draw breath, and we should be there, too, supporting that one last person. I say we place our faith in good stories well told and leave the interactivity as the transient Outlander fad that it is. Instead of being subservient to reader opinion, we should be leading it.” (204)