I judge Jasper Fforde to be a literary genius, at least from the books of his which I have so far read. He brings creative plots with a little bit of mystery and tons of humor that has readers laughing even as they marvel at the stories themselves. With his latest book, The Last Dragonslayer, the first book of The Chronicles of Kazam, I wouldn't say that he has surpassed himself, but it is a very good read that will make you smile.
The Last Dragonslayer takes place in a world where magic is fairly commonplace—or at least it used to be. Modern technology seems to be worming its way into places where magic used to be the sole option. It's cheaper to use drain cleaner than a spell. Also, magic's power has been weakening over the years.
A young foundling named Jennifer Strange is running Kazam, an employment agency for magicians whose powers are growing weaker and weaker all the time. Then the visions start coming. The last dragon in the world will be dying shortly. Sunday at noon, actually.
Who will kill it? The vision isn't clear, but it will fulfill a prophecy that reaches back over four hundred years. That is, unless Jennifer can do something about it.
The Last Dragonslayer is a well-told tale in that usual Fforde fashion. It is a quick read and rather short, but it's satisfying nonetheless. The humor and satire in the novel doesn’t reach the heights of truly hilarious as do his Nursery Crime or Thursday Next books for adults, and the puns are few and far between, though there are some (and perhaps others that refer to British things with which I'm unfamiliar).
I especially loved the swipe at the 24-hour news cycle and sensationalistic television shows that try to capitalize on every little bit of even potential tragedy. Also enjoyable is the urge by everybody to cash in on the new dragonslayer with tons of endorsement offers.
Jennifer is a well-rounded character, a very mature fifteen-year-old girl who has had to run Kazam for the last few years following the disappearance of its owner. The magicians who work and reside at Kazam are the typical variety of quirky characters that you would expect to see in a novel like this. Lady Mawgon is the typical haughty, upper-crust wizard who thinks she's better than everybody else, for example. Still, these are entertaining characters and fulfill their roles nicely in the plot.
I'd love to see another novel exploring the setting of The Last Dragonslayer further. Not necessarily with the same characters; the book ends on a good note that doesn't require a sequel. However, I am curious about how the Ununited Kingdoms (there are twenty-eight in all) get along. While the "special features" on Fforde's web site certainly help with that, I'm sure there is plenty of story potential, too.
There also isn't a lot of tension in the book, other than the overall conflict of what's going to happen with the dragon. When obstacles do rear up, they are dealt with quickly, often within a couple of pages. How to pay the back rent on a house dating back four centuries? I guess it's time to sell out a little, isn't it?
The Last Dragonslayer is a quick, enjoyable read. Most of its jokes work (though a few do fall flat), it possesses moments of pathos and tragedy, and its central character is one that you can really care about.
This may not be Fforde's best work, but it's definitely worth your time.
Dave Roy/2012 for curled
up with a good kid's book