By Jasper Fforde

Hodder & Stoughton


288pp/$16.99/September 2022

The Great Troll War
Cover by Jo Wilson

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 2010, Jasper Fforde introduced the world to Jennifer Strange, a teenage orphan tasked with managing Kazam, a conglomeration of wizards marginally owned by Zambini, who had long since disappeared. Over the next four years, Strange appeared in two additional books, resulting in the addition of several support characters and the increase in the stakes of her job as her world moved closers to the brink of war. Although it has been eight years since Fforde last presented Jennifer and his friends in The Eye of Zoltar, only moments have gone by between that novel and the most recent book in the series, The Great Troll War.

The Great Troll War provides Jennifer with her greatest challenge yet. With magic taken effectively taken off the table, Jennifer finds herself having to defend a mostly fallen kingdom against a ravaging horde of trolls, who are only being kept at bay by a button-filled trench that has been dug across the Cornish peninsula. The Mighty Shandar, stands with the trolls against the humans for unknown reasons, although it seems that his multi-century plot is coming to its denouement if he can only get his hands on the Quarkbeast that Jennifer befriended in The Song of the Quarkbeast. Her troubles are exacerbated by self-interested humans, included the princesses who refuse to believe that the homely Princess Shazza is really a princess and Sir Matthew, who sees the war as a chance to improve his own standing.

Jennifer's weapons, of course, are the loyal friendships she has built up over the course of the three previous books as well as her ability to figure out what needs to be done and to do the right thing. In The Great Troll War, however, Fforde decides to throw a curveball at her, having the Mighty Shandar boast that his diabolical plans are "bigger and bolder" that Jennifer and her friends can dream up, which, within in the confines of the book, is practically a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While Fforde's characters are likeable and quirky, although Jennifer is really the focus of the book, with the others taking a backseat, often only notable by their quirks, and the plot, both Fforde's and the Mighty Shandar's, is convoluted and clever, the world Fforde has created is, in some ways, the star of The Great Troll War. All of Fforde's books examine the world with a skewed point of view and this is no exception, occasionally seeming to channel the voice of Douglas Adams, who also had a skill of taking the prosaic and twisting it into something magical.

Fforde does obliquely refer to the eight years since the previous book in the series (and more directly to the 12 years since he published Shades of Grey, in a brilliant interlude that occurs about two-thirds of the way through The Great Troll War. Although this intrusion into the book, which fits in with the footnotes throughout referring readers to his previous novels, seems to be a brief aside, Fforde later re-incorporates it into the larger story in a surprising manner.

With The Great Troll War, Fforde brings Jennifer Strange's story to a satisfying conclusion, although it is sad to leave the quirky world of the quarkbeasts behind. It is possible that Fforde will find other stories to tell in the world, perhaps following up with any of the other characters who have been created, from Tiger Prawns to Queen Shazza. Even if the world of The Last Dragonslayer does not receive further exploration by Fforde, his odd way of looking at things will certainly continue with Red Side Story, the long-awaited sequel to Shades of Grey currently scheduled for a mid-2023 release date.

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