Fforde (The Eye of Zoltar, 2014, etc.) returns from his “creative hiatus” with a madcap adventure through the Welsh winter, which has grown so deadly most humans literally sleep through it.
Charlie Worthing has just volunteered to join the brave (or, perhaps more accurately, insane) members of the Winter Consul Service, the select group of people who don’t hibernate through winter in order to keep the sleepers safe until they wake up in the spring. The sleepers, at least the rich and well-connected ones, are aided by a drug called Morphenox, which sometimes has the unfortunate side effect of turning the sleeper into a nightwalker, which is more or less a zombie that can perform menial tasks (or, in one notable case, play Tom Jones songs on the bouzouki). Constantly warned of the high likelihood of his death by his fellow Winterers, Charlie must quickly learn to navigate the various dangers that come with his new job, such as the probably mythical Wintervolk, like the Gronk, which often leaves victims with strains of Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes running through their heads; roaming groups of faded English aristocrats bent on villainy and kidnapping; strange co-workers he isn’t sure he can trust; and a “viral dream” about a blue Buick. Charlie’s journey through the especially isolated and dangerous area called Sector Twelve, where there's "always something weird going on," is so absorbing, and Fforde’s wit so sharp, the reveal that the narrative is also a commentary on capitalism comes across as a brilliant twist. Fforde writes in the acknowledgments that he hopes to return to a quicker publishing schedule, but this wonderful tale was well worth the wait.
Whip-smart, tremendous fun, and an utter delight from start to finish.