The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. October 2012. 9780547738475. Gr 7-12.
It is difficult to describe a Jasper Fforde book. As I sat down to write this review, I felt it was going to be hard to encompass the “vibe” of a Fforde novel. On his website, he recognizes this, and provides a (somewhat) helpful answer about describing his books, as part of the site’s Frequently Asked Questions (which in and of themselves are a fun read):
Q: What sort of books are they?
A: Good question. An odd mix of Fantasy, Crime and Sci-fi. There’s romance, too, and literary stuff, and satire, and .. well, you name it.
I am happy to know that even Fforde himself has trouble defining what a Fforde novel is like!
I was first exposed to the hard-to-pigeonhole writing of Fforde with his Thursday Next series, which features a wry blend of British humor, literary references, and mystery. In his first novel written for young adults, The Last Dragonslayer, Fforde’s sparkling wit is again front and center, but retooled a bit to cater to a younger audience. Imagine the silliness of Monty Python blended with the magic of Harry Potter.
Taking place in an alternate-reality England (dubbed the Ununited Kingdom by Fforde), The Last Dragonslayer features a wonderfully intelligent and spunky heroine named Jennifer Strange. She is an orphan who was raised in a convent, and with the mysterious disappearance of the Great Zambini, she is now in charge of Kazam Mystical Arts Management. She manages a stable of magicians, which sounds pretty glamorous, but in reality is not what it seems. The power of magic has dwindled over the years, and magicians are now employed to perform such mundane tasks as cleaning out drains or rewiring a house. Jennifer is an indentured servant biding her time pushing paperwork for the agency and dealing with the egos and personalities of magicians who used to be powerful, but are not the respected wizards they once were.
When the kingdom’s psychics all foresee the death of Maltcassion, the kingdom’s last dragon, circumstances dictate that Jennifer will play a huge role in the event. It appears that it is her destiny to be reluctantly entwined in the death of Maltcassion. But in the Ununited Kingdom, things aren’t always what they seem. Jennifer must navigate a confusing path, using her own judgment, deciding who to trust and who has their own agenda, to make the right decision that will impact the future of the entire kingdom.
Fforde includes so much wit and cleverness it can sometimes be overwhelming, including memorable side-characters such as eccentric magicians, Transient Moose (a spell that started as a practical joke causes a moose to appear and reappear at random intervals and locations), and a unique animal called a Quarkbeast, who is described as “one tenth Labrador, six tenths velociraptor and three tenths kitchen food blender”.
This is a silly, fun read for middle-schoolers and up, and is the first title in a trilogy. There are underlying themes of destiny, ethics, loyalty, and more in this tale, but at its heart, it is an entertaining read about a reluctant heroine. The Last Dragonslayer hits the shelves in the U.S. on October 2nd.