Jasper Fforde always makes me giddy and jump a little for joy whenever he releases a new book. I’m almost always guaranteed a mind-bending read bursting with creativity and tongue-in-cheek fun. The Last Dragonslayer, while marketed towards the YA market, does not read like a YA novel. It retains all of the typical Fforde (Ffordian?) elements.
In alternate Britain, fifteen year-old (almost sixteen) Jennifer Strange is acting manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management. In that world, magical power is slowly dwindling and it takes a team of wizards to complete magical tasks. Low on magic and funds, Kazam finds work for its wizards with jobs such as re-wiring houses in less than a day without the need of pulling out wires and walls or clearing drains. As long as there had been wizards, they have also been agents like Jennifer behind them:
“Argumentative, infantile, passionate and temperamental, they need people like us to manage them and always have done. Two paces behind every great wizard there has always been their agent. They always took a back seat, but were always there, doing the deals, sorting out transport, hotel bookings, mopping up the mistakes and the broken hearts, the sort of thing.” – p. 43
Life changes dramatically for the precocious Jennifer when several soothsayers predict the death of the last dragon in Britain sending the country into a scramble. Several hundred years ago, in a treaty to maintain peace between the dragons and humans, the dragons were given their own land with the agreement that they must not harm the humans and, in return, humans must not harass the dragons. So for centuries, the dragons (and here Fforde is at one of his satirical best) have been sitting on prime real estate in Britain. When each dragon dies, the magic of the land that protects the boundaries and treaty dies with it and so the land is prime for those looking to mark out their own piece of the country.
As long as there had been dragons, they have also been a dragon slayer although their job is nothing like what the name suggests. The dragon slayer’s role was to protect the dragons and to maintain the peace. To her surprise, Jennifer finds that she is the last dragon slayer, the last protector of the last dragon. To the chagrin of the hordes who have parked themselves outside the dragon’s land and the government, all waiting for its death, Jennifer refuses to speed it up and shows strength of character and morality:
“I have a very good idea of the value of the Dragonlands. But you and I are talking abotu different currencies. You’re talking about gold and silver, cash and securities. I’m talking about the sheer beauty of the land, the value of the unpolluted parkland made wild and staying wild for ever.” – p. 257
I loved this book and it’s really on par with The Eyre Affair. It’s witty, funny, another great heroine and, I don’t know how he does it, Fforde makes another ridiculous pet so endearing (first the Dodo ‘plock plock’ and now the Quarkbeast ‘quark’). Old magic, wizards, bureaucracy and red tape, nature, capitalism and commercialism and the old fashioned fights between good and evil, David and Goliath – it’s all here. I can’t wait for the next installment in this trilogy.