Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Last Dragonslayer (Jasper Fforde)

The Last Dragonslayer
(The Chronicles of Kazam series, Book 1)
Jasper Fforde
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Once upon a time, magic was the ultimate force in the world, able to conjure castles in an afternoon or relocate mountains on a whim. Today, there's barely enough wizidrical energy in the Ununited Kingdoms to fly a carpet or unblock a drain, with technology beating it handily for cost and reliability. Some say it's just the way of the world, that magic is a finite resource that will, like the veins of underground marzipan, eventually be used up for good. Others say that magic has always been tied to dragons. Only one still lives - and now, premonitions around the world peg Maltcassion as slain inside a week.
Jennifer Strange, a nearly-sixteen-year-old foundling raised by the nuns of the sacred Lobster, may technically be an indentured servant at Kazam Mystical Arts Management, but in truth she runs the place after the founder, the Great Zambini, literally disappeared in a puff of smoke and never reappeared. For all their powers, wizards are in fact rather childish, relying heavily on their mundane managers to wrangle work and fill out the mountain of government forms, though their egos never permit them to admit it. Only a handful of wizards at Kazam still have enough juice to earn a living, reduced to home and lawn service and the odd pizza delivery - barely enough to pay the bills, and even those contracts are drying up. As she helps settle a new servant, young Tiger Prawns, into life at Kazam, the pre-cogs light up with news of the dragon's impending death, even as surges of wizidrical power well into the megashandars burst through the kingdom of Hereford. Big Magic is stirring, prophecies are on the verge of fulfillment, and everyone from King Snodd to TV talk show hosts turns their eye to the Dragonlands: the last unspoiled wilderness in the land, just begging for development as soon as the big firebag drops dead. All the world waits with bated breath for the Last Dragonslayer to arrive... possibly Jennifer Strange herself.

REVIEW: I've heard nothing but great things about Jasper Fforde, how clever and smart and downright hilarious his books are. Not being literate enough in the classics to attempt his Thursday Next series, I figured a young adult fantasy with dragons would be much more my speed. Unfortunately, having finished it, I still fail to see the clever, smart story I was promised. It feels more like someone yelling random silly things at me, and expecting me to find them funny because they're being yelled, and because they're silly. One wizard is named Full Price - that's FUNNY! He turns into a walrus - walruses are FUNNY! Now there's a kid named Tiger Prawns - that's another FUNNY name! Laugh, already! Silliness alone, sadly, isn't enough for me to find a thing funny. Context is a big part of humor, and the context here is mostly more silliness. The characters are largely childish and unpleasant, few being deeper than the paper they were written on, though the dragon bordered on intriguing. Jennifer often feels like an empty shell of a protagonist, even though she's narrating the tale in first person; she gives lip service to deeper personality, but I didn't feel it myself. As for the story, it just never takes off like it should. I was past the halfway mark before I saw any real depth to the thing, and even that never quite coalesced into anything more than a heavy-handed statement about modern greed and short-sighted consumerism. The conclusion seems to be pulled out of nowhere like a magician's handkerchief chain, and frankly Jennifer's world didn't earn or deserve its outcome. Maybe Fforde's humor just doesn't translate well to the young adult fantasy medium, or it doesn't carry across the Atlantic as well as Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, or it simply isn't my cup of cocoa. Whatever the reason, I didn't enjoy it; had it not read so fast, and had I not been so determined to find the witty story I'd been promised, I doubt I would've bothered finishing it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Goblin Quest (Jim C. Hines) - My Review
The Accidental Sorcerer (K. E. Mills) - My Review
The Princess and the Firedrake (Jim Stinson) - My Review

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