"Early Riser" by Jasper Fforde; Viking (402 pages, $28)


Jasper Fforde, the witty Welsh wordsmith behind the best-selling and delightful Thursday Next "literary detective" series, is back - with a weird one (even for him!). Fforde's latest, "Early Riser" is set in an alternate universe much like our own, except that humans hibernate each year to avoid the brutal winters.

Like Fforde's earlier novels, "Early Riser" plunges the reader into a wacky reality that takes awhile to figure out, pulled along by charismatic characters, a humming plot and plenty of funny lines.

It gets a little grim, with zombielike "nightwalkers" that never quite wake up from the annual monthslong sleep, but becomes hard to put down once our hero, newbie Winter Consul Charlie Worthing, one of the few trying to stay awake and "overwinter," starts dreaming the viral dream that's going around in Sector Twelve.

I found "Early Riser" much more fun to read once the snowdrifts on our own sidewalk started shrinking - initially, all the grim weather talk ("you're not part of the Winter until the Winter's taken a part of you") cut a little too close to home.