For those not familiar or slightly amnesiatic (i.e. me), in Thursday Next novels you can enter a portal into fiction and then do things therein. You probably shouldn’t, and the gist of what I remember from The Eyre Affair is that Thursday tries to keep people from doing exactly that because it fucks with things.
Ok but in THIS one we are in the BookWorld. Not in books, but in the place where books hang out and are read and characters futz around while not being read and so forth, so we’re chillin with the written-Thursday-Next from the BOOKS about Thursday Next when it begins to appear that the Real Thursday Next is missing and the written-Thursday-Next has to get an understudy-Next so she can go pretend to be real-world-Next (it gets a bit Inceptiony sometimes but you’ll get the drift).
And I said that A S Byatt was a reader’s writer because to enjoy her you have to enjoy wandering dazedly through subordinate clauses. Fforde is also a reader’s writer but only because if you are not familiar with books you will not get the better jokes. Por ejemplo. ‘There was an annual fixture on the BookWorld Calendar, where two dozen gruel-crazed and indignant Mr. Bumbles yelling “More? MORE?!” were released to charge through an unread chapter of Oliver Twist. Those of a sporting or daring dispostion were intived to run before them’ etc. Or like when she opens the door to find ‘three Dostoyevskivites staring at [her] from within a dense cloud of moral relativism.’ Or the land of Psychological Thriller where ‘the weather, naturally, was atmospheric.’
And not all the humor is so heavily allusive, but the best bits are. There are a handful of groaners, but humor is a dartboard that is hard to hit UNERRINGLY, and one person’s groaner is another one’s roflmao, so. And then somewhere along the way Thursday acquires a mechanical butler, and you know how I feel about butlers (I am, as they say, for ’em).
All in all, I am a judgmental shit who will have to go read the intervening Next books now as penance. Requisite ass-covering: book received from publisher.