The first book in the Thursday Next series set in an alternate universe.
Publication year: 2001
Page count: 373
The book is set in an alternate 1985 Great Britain where the Crimean war with the Russians is still going on. Goliath Corporation is the biggest company in Britain and pretty much runs the country. The people are very enthusiastic about art, especially literature, to the point that people change their names to classical poets and instead of door-to-door missionaries, they have the Baconists who go door-to-door and try to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Also, Welsh is an independent country and since the war is with Russians, it seems that the Soviet Union never existed.
Thursday Next is a veteran of the Crimean war and now a LitraTec, a literature detective, stationed in London with her pet dodo. The original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is robbed in broad daylight and nobody saw anything. Thursday investigates the scene but doesn’t find any clues. Then SO-5 operative contacts her and drafts her into finding the fiendish villain who has stole the manuscript, Acheron Hades. Hades is a psychotic master villain with powers nobody else has and he can even hear it when someone says his name so its use is avoided.
Thursday and two other operatives stake out Hades’ brother’s place and soon Hades shows up. The operatives attack but things go sadly wrong. Thursday is the only operative left alive and Hades escapes again. However, Hades’ getaway car crashes and he’s believed to be dead.
When Thursday is recovering in hospital, she sees a brightly colored sports car appear in the middle of the hospital room and a familiar looking woman shouts to her to take a job in Swindon. Then the car vanished and it takes a few moments for Thursday to realize that the woman was… herself.
Swindon is Thursday’s home town and she’s reluctant to return there. However, she thinks that she should listen to herself and returns.
I really enjoyed the setting of the book; it’s full of little scenes that make me laugh. For example, Thursday goes to see a Richard III play where members of the audience are also the actors and the rest of the audience joins in the performance. Also, Thursday goes to Swindon to replace a LitraTec operative who was “shot to death during a bookbuy that went wrong”. The Swindon office has two officers who specialize on Shakespeare related crimes: “They keep an eye on forgery, illegal dealing and overtly free thespian interpretations. The actor with them was Graham Huxtable. He was putting on a felonious one-man performance of Twelfth Night.” I was laughing out loud, in a bus.
However, Acheron Hades was a bit too much a mustache-twirling bad guy who was doing evil because he liked doing evil. Each chapter of the book starts with a quote from another in-world book or a news article, and in one quote, from Hades’ book (Degeneracy for Pleasure and Profit), he even admits that “the best reason for committing loathsome and detestable acts – and lets face it, I am considered something of an expert in this field – is purely for their own sake.” He has some pretty strange assistants, though.
Thursday has a lot of emotional baggage. She fought in the Crimean war ten years ago and her brother was there, too. Thursday survived but her brother didn’t. Also, one of Thursday’s fellow officers said that her brother was steering the attack to the wrong place and her brother got a bad reputation because of that. That fellow officer was Landen Parke-Laine, Thursday’s fiancee. Thursday broke the engagement after that. Landen lives in Swindon so Thursday knows that she has to meet again the man she still loves.
I thoroughly enjoyed Thursday’s uncle Mycroft. He’s an inventor and brought to my mind Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies. However, Mycroft’s inventions involve, of course, literature. He invented the Prose Portal though which a real person can get into a book and a book’s character can go to the real world. The bookworms were also very entertaining.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast weren’t really memorable to me. Despite that, I enjoyed the book and I’m likely going to read the next one, Lost in a Good Book, which to my surprise is in the library.