Monday, 4 June 2012

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde **Review**

The Last Dragonslayer 
by Jasper Fforde
Series: The Last Dragonslayer #1
Pages: 304
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release date: 4th November 2010
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

Goodreads synopsis:
In the good old days, magic was powerful, unregulated by government, and even the largest spell could be woven without filling in the magic release form B1-7g. But somewhere, somehow, the magic started draining away.
Jennifer Strange runs Kazam!, an employment agency for state-registered magicians, soothsayers and sorceresses. But work is drying up. Drain cleaner is cheaper and quicker than a spell. Why trust a cold and drafty magic carpet when jetliners offer a comfy seat and an in-flight movie? And now potions are eligible for VAT...
But then the visions start. The Last Dragon is going to be killed by a Dragonslayer at 12.00 on Sunday. The death will unleash untold devastation on the UnUnited Kingdom, setting principality against dukedom and property developer against homesteader. And all the signs are pointing to Jennifer Strange, and saying "Big Magic is coming!"

The Last Dragonslayer is fizzing with all the creativity and genius Jasper Fforde's fans delight in, and will appeal as much to the young at heart as to the younger readers for whom it is written.

The Last Dragonslayer is Jasper Fforde's first book for children. Confusingly, this book belongs to the 9-12 years section in UK book shops, but the second book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast, belongs to the teen section. All very odd and unfathomable, but there we are.
I guess that the first thing that is worth mentioning then, is that despite the fact that this is technically a children's book, it is definitely recognisably Ffordian. Just because it's a children's book, doesn't mean that it's lacking in anything that we love about Jasper - it's quirky, humourous, entertaining, completely mad, and entirely good fun.  So if you're an adult, don't be put off by it's bookshop status!

I guess this is the closest of Jasper's books to being a 'fantasy' novel, though I know (from the Q&A session at the 2012 Fforde Ffiesta in Swindon), that the books are all intended as a mish-mash of genres, incorporating all of the best bits of each genre. This though, is closer to fantasy as we would already recognise it, than his other books - it involves dragons and imaginary beasts, after all!
The premise for this series is absolutely wonderful. Dragons once roamed the Earth among humans freely - however, because of their rather annoying habit of gobbling up the odd human being, the people of the planet called on the most powerful of wizards to sort out the 'Dragon Question' and rid them of these dangerous beasts once and for all. That was 400 years ago, and since then, almost no one has so much as seen a dragon. In fact, there is only one living dragon remaining - Maltcassion - the dragon that lives in the Dragonlands on the boarder of the Kingdom of Hereford.
(I feel that I ought to mention that yes, this novel is set in England, but in a typical Ffordian manner, it is not England as we would recognise it. In the case of this novel, it is set in the UNunited Kingdom, which is split into different Kingdoms. This book is set in the Kingdom of Hereford, ruled over by King Snodd IV.)
The Dragonlands, I feel I ought to explain, are the lands in which a dragon is allowed to roam freely, not disturbing humans, and in return, not being disturbed by them. It is a place of untouched, natural beauty, and has everything the dragon could possibly need. These lands were given to them as a part of the 'Dragonpact' 400 years before, and because of this, a magical forcefield surrounds the lands, that vapourises any human that tries to pass into the lands, that is not a Dragonslayer. These people are granted magical passage through the barriers, and are intended to act as peacekeepers, ensuring that the dragon keeps its end of the pact, and does not kill any human. When the dragon dies, however, the magical barrier disappears, and the land can be claimed by anyone who wants it. All they need to do is mark it out with a bit of string.

So, Maltcassion is the last dragon, and Jennifer Strange, the protagonist of the novel, is out to find the last Dragonslayer, after a premonition of the last dragon's death reaches Kazam (the magical agency that rents out wizards), where Jennifer works.
Jennifer is an amazing protagonist. She's only a young woman - barely even sixteen - but wow has she got some strength! She works at Kazam as a kind of secretary, because without secretaries, wizards (who are known for their temperamental moods and inability to work together without arguing) would fall into unorganised chaos without one. Just doing this, it becomes obvious, is a feat of excellence in itself - those wizards are certainly a handful! - but she does this and more! And this is just the beginning. I can't really say any more than this without introducing possible spoilers, but take it from me - she has a lot to juggle.
Despite the pressure that's bundled on her running Kazam, she still manages to keep her head high and cheerful, and she definitely still has a sense of humour.
Also, she has the most incredible pet (and companion, I guess) that you could ever imagine. I'm not entirely sure if the Quarkbeast is supposed to resemble any living creature - I'm fairly sure it doesn't. It's definitely not a pet that you would want to bite you, considering that it likes to eat meat, tin can and all! There are very few metals that this creature can't and won't chew through! Despite this apparently vicious nature though, the Quarkbeast is almost certainly misunderstood. It's very loyal to Jennifer - almost like a dog, but with the mouth of a shark! It's a source of the hilarity and entertainment in the novel on more than one occasion.

There are such a range of other, fantastic characters in this novel too. They go from the weird and wonderful, such as the Transient Moose and Wizard Moobin, to the courageous Jennifer, Tiger Prawns and Maltcassion, to the amusingly severe Lady Mawgon, and right down to the downright evil, like King Snodd and Sir Matt Grifflon - the bad guys that Jennifer has to overcome in order to do what she believes is moral and right. They make for a very entertaining mixture, and all have that typical Ffordian air about them!

I don't think it takes a genius to see that I am absolutely in love with this novel. I wouldn't say it's my favourite of Jasper's books, but it's still an absolutely fantastic read, and one that I definitely recommend - especially if you're already a fan of his books!


Randi said...

Thank you so much for your review! I've read most of the Thursday Next series and LOVED it; I've got to get this one! :)

Jillian Nicole said...

This book sounds interesting. I have been looking for books to get for my son. I will ask him what he think of it after I read this review for him. Thanks

kimba88 said...

Ooh Dragons! Weird that the books are in different age groups...I am glad you feel it's for older readers too...awesome review.

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