I’ve just finished the first book of this holiday. Not written it, dear Lord, but read. Why do we need to stop the press for that? Surely people finish reading books all the time, everywhere. Yes, they do, but ever since we got a new bed and changed the bedroom layout a few months back we haven’t had a light at the bed and thus no reading in the evening for me. Which was the only time I had time for such things. And reading is ever so important to me…
To get back into the game I chose something easy: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. I love Fforde’s work, but only conditionally. The Thursday Next series is mostly great, although the energy seems to have gone out of it a little as it progressed. I’ve not even picked up the new instalment, which came out in the beginning of the year. The Nursery Crime novels on the other hand aren’t quite as successful. Maybe the noir meets fairy-tale approach just doesn’t work for me, I’ve had the same reaction to some of Robert Rankin’s work. As for Shades of Grey… it seems to be well-meaning and has some nice concepts, but is somehow powerless and badly paced.
But I was going to write about The Last Dragonslayer. The book tells the story of Jennifer Strange – foundling, acting manager of the Kazam Magic Management Company and soon to be the last of the Dragonslayers. She is to be the one who decides the fate of the last Dragon on earth and who of the many players in the game for his lands and power is in the right. Of course everything isn’t quite as simple as it appears to be.
The world is obviously based on modern Britain, but weird enough to be alien and never quite understood. It doesn’t reach the level of the true greats, such as Tolkien or McKillip, but one gets the sense of a vast volume of strange conventions and stranger history that lurks just beneath the pages. I like stories like that. Jennifer, who seems to have an awfully marketable name in a world where everyone else seems to be called after members of the crustacean family, is a funny and clever character. The kind of girl I would have liked to be… had I grown up in a weird alternate Britain where dragons exists, mages are primarily employed as plumbers and marzipan is the new crack.
The book’s biggest fault is its brevity, which might be connected to the age group for which it was written. Maybe I just have a lot more reading stamina than your average fourteen-year-old. I hope not. Then there is also Fforde’s tendency to include rather random pop-culture references in his works. A company called Industrial Magic comes to mind. There are others that did not bother me, although I can’t remember any of them at the moment (which is most likely because they didn’t bother me).
I recommend The Last Dragonslayer to any young, fantasy-loving readers out there. Hell, I recommend it to any old fantasy-loving readers. The book is funny and solidly written. The world is interesting and has a wealth of interesting characters (and the quarkbeast!). And the ending is genuinely touching, although I wonder how this is ever going to lead to the promised sequels. Still… the book is worth a read. Give it a go.