I don’t remember how I happened to come across a reference, recently, to Jasper Fforde’s books about Thursday Next, a Special Operative in literary detection. But I’m very glad I did, because I thorough enjoyed the first book in the series, The Eyre Affair.
It’s pretty hard to describe the book. It’s fantasy, in that it’s most definitely not realistic fiction, but it’s quite different from most of what is classed as fantasy. It’s quite different from just about anything I’ve read before, for that matter.
There is time travel, but it doesn’t play a huge role in the plot. There is alternate history – England has been fighting the Crimean War for 130 years. There are some completely off-the-wall inventions by Thursday’s uncle Mycroft, including one which is central to the plot.
Literature is also central to the plot, and is apparently an important aspect of life in England of this alternate universe. People care so much about literary styles it can cause riots, and ordinary people really care about questions such as who really wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare.
It is also possible for people in the “real” world to get inside literary works, and characters from those works to be transported to the “real” world. If it’s only a published copy of the book that is involved, the consequences are limited, but if this happens with the original manuscript, all copies of the book are suddenly changed.
Add to that a mysterious villain who plans to hold literary characters hostage, a pet dodo (an early version before the genetic sequence had been perfected), and a host of interesting characters with zany names. I don’t know how to convey quite how entertaining the whole mix is – so get it from your library and check it out for yourself.