If you’ve read nothing by Jasper Fforde, go out and find The Eyre Affair. If you’ve read and loved those books (and Shades of Grey and the Nursery Crime series), you may be interested to know he’s started a young adult fantasy series. The Last Dragonslayer is very different from other Fforde novels but at the same time unmistakably his.
If you’re a Fforde fan you know that besides being clever and satirical, he puts an incredible amount of detail into his world-building. Dragonslayer is no different, though it’s a simpler read and definitely good for younger readers. The book takes place in modern day England, where magic is slowly losing its power. Jennifer is a teenager who runs Kazam, a job agency for aging witches and wizards. Unfortunately, as technology increases, the prestige of magic has decreased, so now they do things like clean out pipes and rewire houses – things that magic can still do more quickly and cheaply than regular labor can. Magic carpets are now used to deliver pizzas.
We hadn’t been able to afford a towncar for years, so the three sorcerers, myself, and the beast were packed into my rust-and-orange-but-mostly-rust Volkswagen for the short journey from Hereford to Dinmore. Lady Mawgon had insisted on sitting in the passenger seat because “that’s how it will be” which meant that Wizard Moobin and the well-proportioned “Full” Price were in the back seat, with the Quarkbeast sitting between the two of them and panting in the heat. I was driving, which might have been unusual anywhere but here in the Kingdom of Snodd, which was unique in the Ununited Kingdoms for having driving tests based on maturity, not age. Which explained why I’d had a license since thirteen, while some blokes were still failing to make the grade at forty. It was lucky I could. Sorcerers are easily distracted, and letting them drive is about as safe as waving around a chainsaw at full throttle in a crowded disco.
Jennifer is training her replacement, when she hears of a prophecy that the Last Dragon is about to be slain, and Big Magic is coming. Jennifer is troubled by the fact that the last living dragon is about to be killed for no reason, although the rest of the world isn’t. In fact people have already started lining up to see the slaying and claim a piece of the dragon’s land. Jennifer also worries what that the death of the Last Dragon will mean for the rest of their world, especially the uneasy peace between Britain and Wales, which is divided by the Last Dragon’s lands.
This leads into a complicated back story about the Dragonslayers and why there is only one dragon left. Jennifer then has to find the Last Dragonslayer and try to keep the Last Dragon from being wrongfully slain. The book has a really strong heroine, so I recommend it highly for girls who like fantasy, although boys would love this book too. Also typical of Fforde, the side characters are equally strong, like the imperious Lady Mawgon, the wise Wizard Moobin, and especially the dreaded Quarkbeast (who reminded me a bit of Pickwick but with razor sharp teeth). Jennifer isn’t one of my favorite names for a heroine, especially given Fforde’s talent with words, but it’ll have to do.
Like Fforde’s other books, this one is original and creative and laugh-out-loud funny. Sure, there’s plenty of dragon-fighting fiction written for middle-school kids, but this is one worth reading.
So, if you’re a Fforde fan or someone who likes YA fantasy, run out and find this book (it’s not released in the U.S. yet but Book Depository can send it to you). There’s a sequel, Song of the Quarkbeast, and I would assume more to come. If nothing else, it will tide you over until the next Thursday Next novel comes out (July in the UK, October in the US). Me, I’m still waiting on a sequel to Shades of Grey. You can find out more about Fforde’s books and events here.