Dreams of bigger, better worlds don’t have to be so great that you can’t have a little bit of fun. Enter Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer.
Jennifer Strange has her hands full overseeing a talent management company for magicians. Even when the fifteen-year-old orphan isn’t fulfilling her apprenticeship in magical management by booking wizards for plumbing jobs and magic carpet riders for food delivery, as well as soothing ruffled egos, there’s also the whole issue of magical energy becoming weaker. Strange herself doesn’t have much power, but even her once skillful clients are feeling the effects. What happens if magic runs out? How are they going to keep a roof over their heads? Where did her boss disappear to months ago when he didn’t come back home? And on top of that, there are rumors that the Last Dragonslayer is supposed to kill the last dragon in a few days. Complications ensue.
I first read Jasper Fforde several years ago. My coworker Darcie introduced me to his delightful fantasy/science fiction/literary parody Thursday Next series. I also read his sly Nursery Crimes series, though I enjoyed Thursday Next more. While I was looking for recommendations of what to read in fantasy for this month, my coworker Jen suggested this series as an option, and I was more than happy to give another Fforde series a try. (Thanks for the great recommendations, Darcie and Jen!)
Worldbuilding has always been one of Fforde’s strengths as a fantasy writer. Well, that and his eccentric sense of humor. Both are present in spades in this book. As with Thursday Next, Fforde sets this book in a United Kingdom that does not currently resemble the one we would all recognize. This Ununited Kingdom consists of numerous, mutually hostile small kingdoms.
That leads to a fair amount of fun on its own, but I particularly enjoyed Fforde’s depiction of magic. A lot of fantasy novels are set during an apocalyptic time period or a period when magic is somehow endangered, but Fforde manages to make his seem hilarious, bittersweet, and unique. In a way, there was something sadder to me about this book than other Fforde books I’ve read, simply because as absurdly funny as it was to watch magicians have diva-like hissy fits about honorary titles while they’re on the way to a plumbing job, there’s something that’s also sadly pitiful about it too.
Fforde has an odd sense of humor that combines exuberant silliness with more sophisticated parody, wordplay, and references. That was one of the things I enjoyed about his other work, and it pops up here too. He works in some great satirical commentary about bureaucracy, politics, celebrity, and media, while also including decidedly more goofy moments. My personal favorite moments involved the talent management side of the story. It was a unique spin on fantasy that I haven’t encountered before, and it led to some of the best scenes in the book for me.
But there’s more to this book than just a good time. The satire, while definitely funny, is also insightful. I liked how the book handled well-worn fantasy tropes, like the orphaned main character. I especially appreciated how Fforde handled his world building early on. It also had an interesting take on the issue of destiny and fate.
If there is one knock I have on Fforde’s work overall, it is that it can get very convoluted. That was my only real problem with Thursday Next, though it didn’t start to become a problem for me until several books in the series. I was pleased that in this book he worked in the details of his world well without being overwhelming. I think it may have helped that Jennifer is not new to this world of magic. But she does have a new apprentice to train. As a result, instead of tons of information being thrown at her to introduce her (and the reader) to this world and the characters, the story uses her conversations with her new apprentice as a way to explain things but it doesn’t really seem like an information dump in the process.
This book is technically marketed as YA for teenagers, which kind of surprised me. I mean, I can kind of see why–it has a teenager as its protagonist and it is pretty clean content-wise. But I did wonder if some of the satirical points he was making would land better with an adult who has had more experience with filling out pointless paperwork. Overall, though, I think it is a book that would appeal to a wide range of ages. I certainly enjoyed it! And if you liked it, you are in luck because it is the first book in a series, so there are additional tales of Jennifer and her adventures.
If you would like to learn more about this book or place it on hold, please follow this link to our online catalog.
Recommended for those who enjoy Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and Eoin Colfer.
What’s your favorite fantasy humor series? Have you ever read any of Jasper Fforde’s books? Would you want a job managing unruly magicians? Tell us in the comments!