First Among Sequels is the fifth Thursday Next book, a book series which is impossibly to accurately sum up, because it’s so weird, and stubbornly resists classification (on purpose). I suppose in theory you could start reading the series with this book (after all, I had largely forgotten most of the details of the previous four when I started it and it turned out fine for me), but you’d really lose appreciation for the little details if you did that, and a lot of the stuff you just wouldn’t care about because you wouldn’t have much context for it. So start with The Eyre Affair. It’ll turn out better for you, I promise.
With that said, First Among Sequels was good, but not great.
I don’t remember very much about it, even though I read it only a couple of weeks ago (again, good not great). I do remember that it mostly involved: 1) Thursday running a company called Acme Carpets as a front for both her work with the now unofficial SpecOps (disbanded in the wake of previous book events), and for her work in BookWorld, which she is currently hiding from her husband, Landen; 2) Thursday and Landen trying to get their layabout son Friday to accept his destiny as a VIP member of the ChronoGuard (essentially a time-traveling police force) — this is important because grown up Friday has saved Thursday on many occasions; 3) Thursday training two of her BookWorld selves (Thursday5 is from the fifth Thursday Next book based on Thursday’s adventures, and Thursday1-4, well . . . you get it); 4) The ghost of Thursday’s uncle returns and nobody knows why; and 5) a running subplot about the Stupidity Surplus in the government, among other things. (Again, see above mention of this book being too complicated to explain.)
The main problem with this book is that for the first 2/3, it doesn’t really seem to have any cohesive storyline. Of course, by the end, you realize all that meandering and punning and stuff did have a point and it all ties together, but that doesn’t change the fact that it felt like nothing but meandering at the time. Normally, Fforde is good at making his puns and jokes and clever asides feel relevant, or at least so fun that you forget there’s supposed to be a main point or a through-line of some sort, but here it just felt like he’d done it all before. (Except for the Friday time-travel bits. I really liked those. Also the thing with Jenny, their third kid . . . that was sort of a gut punch.) Not having an obvious plot also brings out my annoyance with the BookWorld, which is mostly that it’s overly complicated, but also on a personal note, the idea that books are ‘built’ in BookWorld sort of takes away the agency of authors, and I find that irksome.
Anyway, if all you care about is if this series is still silly and full of literature references, you’ll have a good time. It is very silly indeed (although not nearly as deliriously silly as the second Nursery Crime book, which I enjoyed much more than this one). I’ve heard books six and seven are more on par with what I’ve come to expect from Fforde, but we’ll have to wait for my official verdict until 2015.