Book Review: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
A fellow English teacher recommended Jasper Fforde as an author I should read a few years back. She suspected that I would enjoy his dry humor. She was right.
I decided to start with his YA series The Chronicles of Kazam because I wanted to find another series to recommend to my students who are Harry Potter fans. Not only can I recommend this first book in the series to my students, but also to any of my friends who enjoyed Harry Potter.
The story is this fantastic social commentary about greed, commercialism, entitlement, deception, and more, but it's perfectly balanced by imaginative world building. Even if younger readers don't always pick up on Fforde's underlying messages, they'll enjoy every whimsical detail, right down to the Quarkbeast.
What's a Quarkbeast? It's mostly a mix of velociraptor and kitchen blender with razor-sharp teeth that intimidate everyone, but there's a smidgen of Labrador as well, making the Quarkbeast quite the loyal sidekick for the main character.
Foundling Jennifer Strange is the strong female protagonist. When the story opens, she's running Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians, wizards, and sorcerers. The actual owner, the Great Zambini, disappeared, so 15-year-old Jennifer is left to keep the peace amongst the various magical people and keep the money flowing in during a time when the power of magic is fading.
In this world, wizidrical energy is conserved and regulated by a strict bureaucracy. Any unlicensed acts of sorcery are punishable by public burning. Ouch! Many references here feel familiar. Jennifer drives a Volkswagen. People use phones. Houses require rewiring. Modern mentions about soda drinks, cereal, and reality television make this world familiar, but it is the Ununited Kingdoms consisting of 28 different nations.
And in this fantasy world, dragons exist. Well, one last dragon exists. The problem is that the pre-cogs see the death of this last dragon at noon on Sunday, in one week, at the hands of the last dragonslayer. And when this last dragon dies, the protected Dragonlands he occupies will be up for grabs. Anyone with a handful of stakes may lay claim to the territory, so a land war is afoot!
Jennifer has to maneuver through layers of politics and problems to prevent this land war. Her sense of humor and sass kept me riveted to the page. She's intelligent and deliberate with her actions. She keeps her cool even in some tight jams. And the best part? No romance! Oh thank you Jasper Fforde for not buckling in to the love triangle subplot that is prevalent in so much YA literature of late. The most romantic reference is to the one celebrity crush poster that Jennifer owns, but hides in her closet.
Jennifer learns a great deal about rivalries, deception, and human nature in what is essentially a coming-of-age novel. My only criticism is mild. I wish she had conversed with the last dragon more.