I have mentioned before how much I love Jasper Fforde. He is one of those authors with an absolutely fantastic imagination and a marvelous ability to weave and untangle very complex story lines. I try to read everything he writes (so far all I haven't read are his literary detective books). One of his newer books, The Last Dragonslayer, is his first non-adult book and his most traditional fantasy novel: we are in (another) alternate universe, one where magic is real and commonplace. It's fading from the world, however, and wizards/sorcerers who were once capable of great feats have been reduced to fixing people's pipes or de-pesting their gardens.
Jennifer Strange, a 15-year-old orphan, runs the Kazam agency; it's her job to loan out the wizards who reside there to do aforementioned menial tasks. One day, prophecies come rolling in that the last remaining dragon will die. Dragons were once a problem, but have since been confined to the specially demarcated lands. With the last dragon set to die, people are eager to grab all of the previously untouched land for commercialization and their own private uses. Through a typically Ffordian series of events, Jennifer finds out she is the last member in an order called the Dragonslayers, who protect the regular citizens from bloodthirsty dragons, and that she will be the one to kill the dragon. There is one problem: after meeting the dragon, she realizes that she likes the dragon and has absolutely no desire to kill him.
Like other Fforde books, the characters of this book are very memorable. One of the author's (many) talents lies in the way he can conjure up a world that is almost recognizable as our own, pervert the image a little bit, and then populate it with wacky people. The Last Dragonslayer is no exception, and I look forward to the following two books in this trilogy because it means returning to these characters. Jennifer reminds me of what I imagine a teenage Thursday Next would be, and the cast of wizards is as eccentric and wildly-named as I could have ever hoped. I often felt like I was reading a Diana Wynne Jones book (I say that as if I've read more than one), which I intend as a compliment.
The fact that the book is meant for younger readers becomes obvious, and not in a good way. One of Fforde's best qualities (as I have mentioned above) is his insanity-level plotting, and you can tell that he held himself back in the creation of Dragonslayer's storyline. There was potential for things to get crazy, but Fforde only draws near the line without crossing it. Everything wraps up a little too quickly--the book is not very long--and it feels truncated. I know that there are two more parts coming (though part two is already out in the UK), so I would have appreciated an ending that seemed less packaged and tied-up.
Nonetheless, I've never read a Jasper Fforde novel I didn't like, and this is no exception. Even when his books aren't amazing, they're still really good. So don't hesitate to pick it up, especially if you've got a young fantasy lover on the premises.
My rating: 4/5
The Last Dragonslayer on Goodreads
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