Jasper Fforde has a reputation for wacky stories and even wackier characters. Whether it is bringing storybook characters to life or filling his novels with puns, his stories are entertaining, unique, and bordering on crazy. While Early Riser certainly has an eclectic cast of characters, the story is a subdued one for him. Very little about Early Riser is as over-the-top as some of his other stories. There are downright somber sections of the novel. This is not the light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek Jasper Fforde we know. The Jasper Fforde of Early Riser is still trying to have fun, but you can tell he is struggling to do so.
I believe the problem is that the ever-present presence of death by cold or starvation puts a pall over the story from which it never recovers. Mr. Fforde tries to have fun with things, through mandatory eating requirements and how the fact that overweight is the new healthy and throws in the promise of mammoths into the mix, but no matter what silly character or scenario he adds, the story still retains its serious tone. The dangers Charlie faces as a Winter Consul in his first winter awake are numerous and frequently reiterated by every new character Charlie meets or with every unexpected action Charlie must take. A chase scene hampered by an invisible mythical beast can be amusing but is decidedly less so when the chase scene occurs in temperatures as low as negative sixty degrees and dropping. While it does up the suspense, it does not necessarily increase the fun.
While Early Riser may not be entirely up to the same madcap levels as Mr. Fforde’s earlier novels, I liked it a lot. I enjoyed Mr. Fforde’s take on climate change and think his vision of mandatory hibernation through the worst of the winter is refreshingly different. I like that hibernation in Mr. Fforde’s world is not as simple as falling asleep, that it involves preparation and danger. I also like the fact that society still functions in spite of the adverse weather. Charlie’s world is not a post-apocalyptic; it is a fully-functioning society that happens to exist either in an alternative universe or in unknown future years from today.
The differences are what make the story fun for me, as does the fact that Mr. Fforde fleshes out his worlds so completely. There appears to be no aspect of this world not covered or considered. This attention to detail is what makes Mr. Fforde’s stories come to life, no more so than in Early Riser, where what should be improbable becomes possible thanks to Mr. Fforde’s thoroughness.
Early Riser might be Mr. Fforde’s more realistic novels, but it still contains his signature style. Fans will rejoice at his zany characters and their goofy antics. Plus, there are as many puns as one can stomach. In other words, Early Riser is most definitely a Jasper Fforde novel.