Skip to main content

Early Riser


Early Riser

When winter hits in Wales, the vast majority of the population hibernates. For some this involves fattening up for the calorically lean months ahead, for some it means taking drugs to induce sleep, and for others it means a kind of human torpor lived in one of the towering Dormitoriums. But there are those who stay awake all winter long: renegades, criminals, government officials, scientists and others. Their lives are tough, and the world seems, if not lawless, perhaps ethically fuzzy. While those who overwinter watch over their sleeping communities, strange things happen.

From legends of WinterVolk to the reality of high-tech drug manufacturing, winter in Jasper Fforde’s latest novel, EARLY RISER, is a dangerous and really weird season.

Charlie Worthing is about to start his first winter awake, having taken a job with the Winter Consul Services in Sector Twelve to ensure a steady supply of the drug Morphenox. He is greeted by warnings about irrational leadership, rumors of cannibalism, and a growing fear of a shared nightmare about a blue Buick. Less intrepid and brave than unlucky and obligated, Charlie immediately finds himself responsible for a bouzouki-playing nightwalker after the unfortunate demise of his Winter Consul superior, Jack Logan.

"Fforde does not lack creativity.... Dedicated and diligent readers will find much to savor in EARLY RISER."

Charlie’s arrival in Sector Twelve just as winter descends traps him in a place of odd characters, secrets and subterfuge. Though many of the people he meets give him advice for survival, just as many seem out to manipulate or at least confuse him. The gossiping Porter Lloyd is a fount of information, but is he trustworthy? Aurora from HiberTech and the Consul’s Toccata have an antagonistic relationship that befuddles Charlie as he feels they are each using him for their own less than clear ends. But it is Charlie’s affection for the beguiling Birgitta that really draws him into the ongoing winter intrigue in Sector Twelve, including his own dreams about the blue Buick.

What is really going on as people sleep every winter? Who is looking out for their safety? What is the real source of the shared dreams, and what might it have to do with the forces that never hibernate? Charlie asks these questions as he tries not to fall victim to shadowy forces that menace the winter. And Fforde, in turn, asks readers to imagine a world of a fantastical, but not unimaginable, climate in this bizarre thriller.

Fforde does not lack creativity. The story of a conspiracy full of wacky figures, blurred lines between sleep and wakefulness, set in a wild and icy landscape, has a lot of appeal and is full of possibility. Charming and fairly innocent, Charlie is a fantastic straight man, contrasting with the villains, vacants, megafauna and kooks --- both violent and harmless --- that populate Sector Twelve and all of wintering Wales.

However, in the end, EARLY RISER is a bit disjointed and confusing, though still often funny and insightful. Fforde packs so much into this novel: a new and curious (but still somewhat familiar) world, manipulative agents of power and control, murder, deception, wordplay, the possibilities of magic and love, the importance of dreams and dreaming. It can feel a bit chaotic and hard to manage, even though it is so intriguing. Overall, this is a great tale, overburdened and maybe overwritten, but compelling enough to shine in some cool ways.

Dedicated and diligent readers will find much to savor in EARLY RISER.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 15, 2019

Early Riser
by Jasper Fforde

  • Publication Date: February 11, 2020
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Humor
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0143111272
  • ISBN-13: 9780143111276