By Jasper Fforde



289pp/$16.99/November 2011

The Song of the Quarkbeast
Cover by Ryan Wood

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Jasper Fforde's The Song of the Quarkbeast is set a mere two months after The Last Dragonslayer, so there hasn't been a lot of time for the status quo to change between the two novels. Jennifer Strange is still acting director of Kazam and trying to guide the unruly, and oftentimes incompetent, wizards of that establishment while Tiger Prawns is getting acclimatized to his new situation. Fforde, hwoever, makes up for the lack of change by expanding the view of the magical kingdom of Hereford to give Jennifer and Kazam new challenges to deal with.

The expansion of the world of magic introduces Kazam's rival firm, iMagic, run by the Great Zambini's long-time rival The Amazing Blix. Although Blix and iMagic are merely an annoying entity at first as Jennifer works to get her team in shape to use magic to rebuild a medieval bridge in Hereford, eventually, Blix throws his lot in with the corrupt monarch, King Snodd, who made Jennifer's life miserable in the first novel. Now the court magician, Blix challenges Kazam to a magical contest which could mean the hostile takeover of Kazam by iMagic. Unfortunately for Jennifer, she finds herself in a position of having to accept the challenge.

Of course, Blix is no less corrupt than King Snodd and the two working together strive to undermine Kazam in any way possible in the lead up to what is now a bridge-building competition. Jennifer must seek out unlikely assistance to support Kazam's dwindling magical team. These forays, some as close at the Convent of the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster, where Jennifer and Tiger were raised, to more distant kingdoms, further allows Fforde to expand the world he has created.

Fforde maintains the surreal world throughout the novel, dropping in odd bits and pieces which serve to add depth to the world, even if they don't always seem to have relevance to the main plot. However, these same oddities often can be foreshadowing to indicate something that is to become important later. Some of the surreal bits Fforde used in The Last Dragonslayer become more important in The Song of the Quarkbeast and it is quite possible that these bits of surrealism are important either later in this volume or in the subsequent adventures of Jennifer Strange and Kazam.

Fforde also builds his world in ways that more directly impact Jennifer. The rivalry between Kazam and iMagic not only gives her a worthy adversary, but also builds on the enmity between Strange and King Snodd from the first volume, when she refused to turn magic to serve the king's interest. Fforde also uses Jennifer's interactions with both iMagic and King Snodd's court to expand the cast of characters she has to deal with, giving the world of Kazam a much more lived in feel.

The Song of the Quarkbeast is an entertaining, offbeat novel in which the humor is integral to the setting in a way that doesn't impinge on the plot. Fforde has created quirky characters who are likeable and focused on the tasks they need to accomplish, completely accepting the oddities that their world throws at them.

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