By Jasper Fforde



416pp/$16.99/October 2014

The Eye of Zoltar
Cover by Alex Janson

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The third volume of Jasper Fforde's "Chronicles of Kazam," The Eye of Zoltar is quite different than the preceding two volumes. Fforde continues to focus his attention on Jennifer Strange, but the setting and cast of supporting characters is mostly new. The events of The Last Dragonslayer, come back to haunt her and her relationship with King Snodd, as amended by events at the end of The Song of the Quarkbeast help drive the narrative.

As the novel begins, Kazam's resident clairvoyant, Kevin Zipp, has made a series of predictions, some of which revolve around the neighboring Cambrian Empire. Although his predictions will come true, they will not do so in any obvious ways. Furthermore, the Once Magnificent Boo has been taken hostage in the Cambrian Empire and charged with transporting a dangerous Tralfamosaur illegally. Finally, the Mighty Shandar appears and explains that his payment for the destruction of all dragons is in jeopardy because Jennifer helped in the creation of two new dragons, Colin and Feldspar Axiom Firebreath IV. Shandar will be forced to destroy them, and in the process Kazam, unless Jennifer can retrieve the fabled Eye of Zoltar. Since the evidence points to the Eye of Zoltar, if it exists at all, being in the Cambrian Empire, Jennifer finds herself heading that way in the company of newly minted wizard Perkins and King Snodd's obnoxious daughter, Princess Shazza, whose mind has been placed into the body of her hand-maiden, Laura Scrubb.

Because the Cambrian Empire is one of the most dangerous places in the Ununited Kingdoms, one of its main indutries is jeopardy tourism, Jennifer hires a guide, Addie Powell, how gives her odds that only 50% of the group will be killed in their search, which Jennifer insists is not a quest. Addie immediately agrees to guide three additional tourists with the thought that they will wind up the cannon fodder to ensure that Jennifer's group doesn't suffer casualties. The danger in the Cambrian Empire, however, causes The Eye of Zoltar to be a much darker novel that the earlier two books in the series. Rather than merely having the reputation of Kazam or Jennifer at risk, the very lives of the characters are at risk in The Eye of Zoltar, a situation of which Fforde and his characters constantly remind the reader.

This new focus increases the stakes for Jennifer and Kazam, which is reinforced by cryptic, if brief, messages from Tiger and Moobin, both left behind in Hereford. Jennifer's search is clearly not the only thing of importance happening in the world, although the reader has no clue what is happening. Instead, the focus is on Jennifer's attempts to achieve her goal, Shazza coming to terms with being trapped in Laura's body, and Perkins coming into his own as a licensed wizard. All of this is more than enough to maintain the reader's interest. It also means that as The Eye of Zoltar concludes, it becomes clear that Fforde has a much deeper and darker plan for the world of Kazam than he introduced in the first book.

Although The Eye of Zoltar was originally published in 2014, Fforde clearly has plans for Jennifer Strange in a fourth and final volume. Unfortunately, that book, has not yet been published, which is slightly ironic since The Eye of Zoltar is the first volume of the series to end with a cliffhanger of sorts. According to Fforde's website, the book should be published in September of 2021, so a resolution to the story threads that became clear in The Eye of Zoltar should be addressed in the near future.

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