This book was charmingly odd. It has a bit of everything from time travel to alternate history, with a dash of steampunk thrown in for fun. The plot follows Thursday Next, a literary detective and veteran of the alternative history Crimean War. She gets recruited to a higher-ranked agency to help catch Acheron Hades, a wanted terrorist who Thursday had as a professor in college. If you think the name is silly and a little on the nose, it is. The names, and the general worldbuilding in this novel, make the whole thing feel off-kilter. It takes some getting used to but the effect serves the story. This is a world where some very strange things can and will happen.
Thursday confronts Hades, but he escapes through the use of his magical powers. She is left injured and reeling from the loss of several of her team members from the mission. While in the hospital she encounters herself, from the near future, who tells her to transfer back to her home town. When she does, she gets sent on a path that eventually leads her back to Hades. But first, we’re introduced to some of her family. Most importantly for the plot, her uncle is an inventor who has devised a way to let people enter into books.
Hades, being a villain of the mustache-twirling variety, steals the device and murders a minor character from a Dickens novel because he can. Since he had stolen the first edition, the effects of the murder are rewritten in every copy of the book around the world. He makes his demands, and holds as hostage the titular character from Jane Eyre. Thursday must confront him again, rescue Jane, and return her to the novel. She also has to do all this while evading and thwarting the government-driving megacorp that wants to steal the Prose Portal for their weapons division.
This book was so odd it took me quite a bit longer than usual to get into it. However once I did, I was hooked. There were really only two things that diminished my enjoyment of it, and they were both my personal failings, not the book’s. I think I would have gotten much more out of it if I knew more about the political climate in the UK. I also know I would have enjoyed it much more if I had ever read Jane Eyre. Instead I sort of vaguely knew of the characters, but I didn’t really know their stories or care about them. It made the core of the book’s climax a bit hollow for me. That said, even without knowing the source material at all I still thought The Eyre Affair was a fun read, and would recommend it.
TL;DR: A madcap detective story in an alternate history with a literary bent. It was fun and entertaining, but I’m betting I would have liked it even more if I had read any of the novels that feature in the plot.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Rating: 4/5 stars
Next up: The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson