By Jasper Fforde



288pp/$16.99/November 2010

The Last Dragonslayer
Cover by Alex Janson

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The worlds created by Jasper Fforde have always had a surreal quality to them, from the first moments of The Eyre Affair where he created a world in which humans could not only interact with fictional characters, but classical literature became pop culture, to The Constant Rabbit in which anthropomorphic rabbits coexist, not-always peacefully, with humans. Occasionally, as with his Shades of Gray series or Early Riser, his big concepts don't quite work out. He takes this gonzo concepts and successfully incorporates them into a young adult novel that will appeal to his existing fans in The Last Dragonslayer.

Set in a world in which magic is fading, Jennifer Strange is a foundling who, although only sixteen (in two weeks), is in charge of Kazam, a company of wizards whose actual owner, Zambini, accidentally vanished while performing at a children's magic show. Jennifer's job is to keep Kazam running, which isn't particularly easy given the trend to replace weakening magic with technology and a stable of irascible and not always reliable wizards. As the novel opens, Jennifer receives some assistance in the form of "Tiger" Prawns, the next in a long line of foundlings to help run the company. When Kevin Zipp, one of Kazam's pre-cognitives reports that the last dragon, Maltcassion, will die the next Sunday at noon, which might destroy all magic, but will certainly lead to a land grab and the dragon's lands will become available for the first time in centuries.

As Jennifer discovers that she must deal with the dragon's impending (and potential) death, she comes into contact with royalty from both the kingdom she lives in as well as the neighboring kingdom, one of whom sees expansion into the dragonlands as the first step in a massive war of conquest and the other sees it as the need to wage an existential defensive war. Jennifer finds herself a pawn, and a threatened one, in their political situation. At the same time, she is targeted by merchandising men from a variety of products who want to buy her sponsorship. Fforde handles all of this with a satirical bent that keeps even the most dire threats light-hearted and Jennifer tries to maintain as much of the status quo as she can.

Fforde has always had a tendency to build absurdity upon absurdity in both large and small ways and The Last Dragonslayer is no different. Tiny throw-away lines indicate Fforde's skewed way of viewing the world while his larger absurdities, always accepted by the people who live in his world, serve to highlight the absurdities of our own world that we usually ignore because we are so used to seeing them every day. While The Last Dragonslayer may lack much of the sense of the surreal the pervades Fforde's The Constant Rabbit, beyond a certain point, Fforde seems less concerned about the internal consistency of his world if he can offer a clever, witty, or interesting concept, and Fforde's worlds are so delightful, that lack of consistency becomes a strength.

With The Last Dragonslayer, Fforde has created a magical world that ranks with the playful world inhabited by his Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. It provides an amusingly skewed version of the world with characters the reader would like to spend time with as they overcome the obstacles Fforde drops in their paths.

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