In Jasper Fforde's (The Eyre Affair, The Woman Who Died a Lot) wonderfully weird dystopian thriller, the human population spends four months hibernating every winter, the Hib. The deadly cold of winter exacts a toll of lives. To offset population losses, citizens must engage in mandatory childbearing. Class differences affect chances of surviving the Hib. The rich can afford Morphenox, a drug that saves energy by suppressing dreams and increases their survival rate, while the poor die in greater numbers. However, Morphenox users can suffer a neural collapse and awaken as zombie-like nightwalkers. Some nightwalkers retain just enough awareness to do menial labor, but most are "parted out" as organ and limb transplant sources.
In this bleak world, young Welshman Charlie Worthing has just embarked on an unusual career with the Winter Consulate, the determined and possibly insane few who stay awake to keep the sleepers safe. Despite its high mortality rate, the post comes with guaranteed Morphenox and gets him out of his dead-end job. After a nightwalker retrieval gone awry leaves his mentor dead, Charlie must guard himself against posh but homicidal Villains, the probably-but-maybe-not-mythical creatures known as Wintervolk, and his supposed allies. When he stumbles into a conspiracy centered on a viral dream that drives people to insanity and murder, Charlie isn't sure who to trust. He's started having the viral dream, too, and if he can't unlock its secrets quickly, this winter will be his last.
As precisely built as an ice sculpture, Fforde's wintry nightmarescape glistens with mystery and menace. Early Riser will leave Fforde's fans even more hopeful that he returns to a steady publishing schedule. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads