The New York Times Book Review
With The Last Dragonslayer, fans of Jasper Fforde's best-selling "Thursday Next" and "Nursery Crime" series will be delighted that Fforde's talent for world-building, his skewed sense of humor and his searing satire come through full force…The ending…is delicious and satisfying, yet it teases with a promise of a series.
Lisa Von Drasek
Adult author Fforde's foray into children's books will delight readers who like their fantasy with a dash of silliness. Since the Great Zambini disappeared six months earlier, the job of running Kazam Mystical Arts Management has fallen to Jennifer Strange, a foundling two weeks shy of 16, but sensible beyond her years. Kazam is part boardinghouse, part employment agency for wizards and magicians whose talents are on the decline—a high maintenance bunch. Jennifer has just begun her mentorship of another foundling, Horton "Tiger" Prawns, when she learns she is the Last Dragonslayer (capitalized to differentiate from merely the previous dragonslayer) and that the last dragon on Earth, Maltcassion, is prophesied to die at her hand on Sunday noon. Comedic chaos ensues—the news of Maltcassion's imminent death paves the way for a major land grab. There's a lot of setup for later books in Fforde's Chronicles of Kazam, but it's so inventive and charming that readers will happily stick with it (though the tragic death of a major character will hit some of them hard) and be impatient for the next episode. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"With 'The Last Dragonslayer' fans of Jasper Fforde's best-selling 'Thursday Next' and 'Nursery Crime' series will be delighted that Fforde's talent for world-building, his skewed sense of humor and his searing satire come through full force."
—New York Times Book Review
“Features the same delightful mix of magic and everyday absurdity that characterizes [Fforde’s] other books. . . . Readers both young and adult will get hours of pleasure visiting these Ununited Kingdoms.”
—NPR Books, online review
"Fforde's foray into children's books will delight readers who like their fantasy with a dash of silliness.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Humor abounds, but so does heart, as readers are introduced to a heroine who is practical, smart, and true."
—School Library Journal, starred review
"Fforde's fantasy is smart, funny, and abundantly imaginative in its critique of commercial culture. . . . Reminiscent of Pratchett in tone, this is nevertheless Fforde’s own creature entirely—and entirely satisfying.”
“Fantasy readers with a taste for the silly should appreciate the subverted tropes.”
"Thoroughly entertaining . . . readers will easily sit back and enjoy the fun.”
VOYA - Sherri Rampey
Welcome to Hereford, an alternate version of the modern day UK, where wizards are hired to do normal everyday jobs. Meet Jennifer Strange, manager of Kazam, who, for the time being is in charge of making sure quotas are met and rules are not broken. That is, until Jennifer Stranger learns she is a dragonslayer who does not want to slay the dragon. Fforde has inundated this story with quirky but likeable characters that are sure to make the reader laugh. It is wonderful that Fforde keeps the protagonist as a normal, down-to-earth, young teenage woman (except for being a dragonslayer, of course), who for all intents and purposes, wants to manage Kazam and lead a normal, boring teenage life. The fact that Fforde gives Jennifer a strong opinion only adds more emphasis to the character he has created. The secondary characters enhance and add humor to the plot of the novel. While the characters are the "meat" of the story, there could be more substance to the plot. It seems that the protagonist is constantly running from cameras and ad reps when there could have been more interaction between Jennifer and the dragon. Despite this minor set-back, those in middle school and junior high will flock to this book, especially boys (because of the awesome VW on the cover). It might be a bit harder to sell to the high school crowd. Reviewer: Sherri Rampey
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Jennifer Strange, foundling apprentice to a missing "agent/impresario," is a practical person. She knows how to get things done. Lucky, because the nearly sixteen-year-old has to do just about everything: organizing work for her hotel full of down-at-the heels magicians and keeping them fed and out of mischief. Then suddenly, she's promoted to official "Dragonslayer" of the Kingdom of Hereford and must learn to manage King Snood and any number of greedy othersall craving the last dragon's pristine, unsullied lands. With the help of her Quarkbeast (90% metal and 10% Labrador, whose favorite part of canned dog food is the can) and Tiger Prawns (the latest foundling sent by the Sisters of the Lobsterhood), all things are possible. Maybe. Perhaps. Teachers and librarians will be delighted to note that both good fun and an ethical heroine launch the "Chronicles of Kazam" series, serving as Fforde's (of "Thursday Next" literary mysteries fame) first foray into children's fantasy Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
Finally, the first in Fforde's fantasy trilogy for young readers, published in the U.K. in 2010, makes it to this side of the pond. In the Ununited Kingdoms (whose names and political inclinations presumably hold more meaning than their United counterparts), (nearly) 16-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange (think indentured servant with pluck) has taken over running Kazam, one of the last Houses of Enchantment. She shepherds once-powerful wizards through pizza delivery and rewiring homes in Hereford, a kingdom bordering the last Dragonland. When the last dragon's death is foretold, Jennifer finds herself smack in the center of political maneuvering and foundering in massive tides of greed. Jennifer never comes across as adolescent or real; instead, her knowledge of her world and her even-toned narrative (even of high-intensity scenes) seem downright authorial. Too much of the novel is comprised of comic bits strung together with first-person exposition, and laughs fall flat when they depend on British slang, as with know-it-all William of Anorak. The obvious and clearly broadcast message ("Greed is all powerful; greed conquers all," tempered by Jennifer's innate goodness) further impedes the effect of the broad, sometimes ingenious humor. The second volume may fare better as it promises to highlight the aging, odd wizards and world rather than the less-than-sparkling Jennifer. Mostly for Fforde's fans, although fantasy readers with a taste for the silly should appreciate the subverted tropes. (Fantasy. 12 & up)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Orphaned Jennifer Strange, 15, is the manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an organization that promotes the use of magic by its resident sorcerers, a quirky bunch at best. Within the course of one week, Jennifer becomes famous when she is named the Last Dragonslayer, and her already unusual life becomes one of danger, deceit, and dragons. She is called upon to kill the last dragon in the land and war threatens to break out as countries surrounding the Dragonlands vie for control of its vast and rich lands. Jennifer doesn't want to kill the dragon, but her duty and destiny are clear. Or are they? Mixing modern sensibilities, magic, and mayhem, Fforde has written an entertaining story that will appeal to lovers of magic and magical beings. Humor abounds, but so does heart, as readers are introduced to a heroine who is practical, smart, and true. More wacky adventures are promised in the next book in the series. Kathy Kirchoefer, Prince Georges County Memorial Library System, New Carrollton, MD
Read an Excerpt
It looked set to become even hotter by the afternoon, just when the job was becoming more fiddly and needed extra concentration. But the fair weather brought at least one advantage: dry air makes magic work better and fly farther. Moisture has a moderating effect on the mystical arts. No sorcerer worth their sparkle ever did productive work in the rain—which probably accounts for why getting showers to start was once considered easy, but getting them to stop was nearly impossible.
We hadn’t been able to afford a company car for years, so the three sorcerers, the beast, and I were packed into my rust-and-orange-but-mostly-rust Volkswagen for the short journey from Hereford to Dinmore. Lady Mawgon had insisted on sitting in the passenger seat because "that’s how it will be," which meant that Wizard Moobin and the well-proportioned Full Price were in the back seat, with the Quarkbeast sitting between the two of them and panting in the heat. I was driving, which might have been unusual anywhere but here in the Kingdom of Hereford, which was unique in the Ununited Kingdoms for having driving tests based on maturity, not age. That explained why I’d had a license since I was thirteen, while some were still failing to make the grade at forty. It was lucky I could. Sorcerers are easily distracted, and letting them drive is about as safe as waving around a chain saw at full throttle in a crowded nightclub.
We had lots to talk about—the job we were driving to, the weather, experimental spells, King Snodd’s sometimes eccentric ways. But we didn’t. Price, Moobin, and Mawgon, despite being our best sorcerers, didn’t really get along. It wasn’t anything personal; sorcerers are just like that—temperamental, and apt to break out into petulant posturing that takes time and energy to smooth over. My job of running Kazam Mystical Arts Management was less about spells and enchantments, diplomacy and bureaucracy, than about babysitting. Working with those versed in the Mystical Arts was sometimes like trying to knit with wet spaghetti: just when you thought you’d gotten somewhere, it all came to pieces in your hands. But I didn’t really mind. Were they frustrating? Frequently. Were they boring? Never.
"I do wish you wouldn’t do that," said Lady Mawgon in an aggrieved tone as she shot a disapproving glance at Full Price. He was changing from a human to a walrus and then back again in slow, measured transformations. The Quarkbeast was staring at him strangely, and with each transformation there wafted an unpleasant smell of fish around the small car. It was good the windows were open. To Lady Mawgon, who in better days had once been sorceress to royalty, transforming within potential view of the public was the mark of the hopelessly ill-bred.
"Groof, groof," said Full Price, trying to speak while a walrus, which is never satisfactory. "I’m just tuning up," he added in an indignant fashion, once de-walrussed or re-humaned, depending on which way you looked at it. "Don’t tell me you don’t need to."
Wizard Moobin and I looked at Lady Mawgon, eager to know how she was tuning up. Moobin had prepared for the job by tinkering with the print of the Hereford Daily Eyestrain. He had filled in the crossword in the twenty minutes since we’d left Kazam. Not unusual in itself, since the Eyestrain’s crossword is seldom hard, except that he had used printed letters from elsewhere on the page and dragged them across using the power of his mind alone. The crossword was now complete and more or less correct—but it left an article on Queen Mimosa’s patronage of the Troll War Widows Fund looking a little disjointed.
"I am not required to answer your question," replied Lady Mawgon haughtily, "and what’s more, I detest the term tuning up. It’s quazafucating and always has been."
"Using the old language makes us sound archaic and out of touch," replied Price.
"It makes us sound as we are meant to be," replied Lady Mawgon, "of a noble calling."
Of a once noble calling, thought Moobin, inadvertently broadcasting his subconscious on an alpha so low, even I could sense it.
Lady Mawgon swiveled in her seat to glare at him. "Keep your thoughts to yourself, young man."
Moobin thought something to her but in high alpha, so only she could hear it. I don’t know what he thought, but Lady Mawgon said, "Well!" and stared out the side window in an aggrieved fashion.
I sighed. This was my life.
Of the forty-five sorcerers, movers, soothsayers, shifters, weather-mongers, carpeteers, and other assorted mystical artisans at Kazam, most were fully retired due to infirmity, insanity, or damage to the vital index fingers, either through accident or rheumatoid arthritis. Of these forty-five, thirteen were potentially capable of working, but only nine had current licenses—two carpeteers, a pair of pre-cogs, and most important, five sorcerers legally empowered to carry out Acts of Enchantment. Lady Mawgon was certainly the crabbiest and probably the most skilled. As with everyone else at Kazam, her powers had faded dramatically over the past three decades or so, but unlike everyone else, she’d not really come to terms with it. In her defense, she’d had farther to fall than the rest of them, but this wasn’t really an excuse. The Sisters Karamazov could also claim once-royal patronage, and they were nice as apricot pie. Mad as a knapsack of onions, but pleasant nonetheless.
I might have felt sorrier for Mawgon if she weren’t so difficult all the time. Her intimidating manner made me feel small and ill at ease, and she rarely if ever missed an opportunity to put me in my place. Since Mr. Zambini’s disappearance, she’d gotten worse, not better.
"Quark," said the Quarkbeast.
"Did we really have to bring the beast?" Full Price asked me.
"It jumped in the car when I opened the door."
The Quarkbeast yawned, revealing several rows of razor-sharp fangs. Despite his placid nature, the beast’s ferocious appearance almost guaranteed that no one ever completely shrugged off the possibility that he might try to take a chunk out of them when they weren’t looking. If the Quarkbeast was aware of this, it didn’t show. Indeed, he might have been so unaware that he wondered why people always ran away screaming.
"I would be failing in my duty as acting manager of Kazam," I said, in an attempt to direct the sorcerers away from grumpiness and more in the direction of teamwork, "if I didn’t mention how important this job is. Mr. Zambini always said that Kazam needed to adapt to survive, and if we get this right, we could possibly tap a lucrative market that we badly need."
"Humph!" said Lady Mawgon.
"We all need to be in tune and ready to hit the ground running," I added. "I told Mr. Digby we’d all be finished by six this evening."
They didn’t argue. I think they knew the score well enough. In silent answer, Lady Mawgon snapped her fingers, and the Volkswagen’s gearbox, which up until that moment had been making an expensive-sounding rumbling noise, suddenly fell silent. If Mawgon could replace gearbox bushings while the engine was running, she was tuned enough for all of them.
I knocked on the door of a red-brick house at the edge of the village, and a middle-aged man with a ruddy face answered.
"Mr. Digby? My name is Jennifer Strange of Kazam, acting manager for Mr. Zambini. We spoke on the phone."
He looked me up and down. "You seem a bit young to be running an agency."
"I’m sixteen," I said in a friendly manner.
"In two weeks I’ll be sixteen, yes."
"Then you’re actually fifteen?"
I thought for a moment."I’m in my sixteenth year."
Mr. Digby narrowed his eyes."Then shouldn’t you be in school or something?"
"Indentured servitude," I answered as brightly as I could, trying to sidestep the contempt that most free citizens have for people like me. As a foundling, I had been brought up by the Sisterhood, who’d sold me to Kazam four years before. I still had two years of unpaid work before I could even think of applying for the first level that would one day lead me, fourteen tiers of paperwork and bureaucracy later, to freedom.
"Indentured or not," replied Mr. Digby, "where’s Mr. Zambini?"
"He’s indisposed at present," I replied, attempting to sound as mature as I could. "I have temporarily assumed his responsibilities."
"‘Temporarily assumed his responsibilities’?" Mr. Digby repeated. He looked at the three sorcerers, who stood waiting at the car. "Why her and not one of you?"
"Bureaucracy is for little people," retorted Lady Mawgon in an imperious tone.
"I am too busy, and paperwork exacerbates my receding hair issues," said Full Price.
"We have complete confidence in Jennifer," added Wizard Moobin, who appreciated what I did perhaps more than most. "Foundlings mature quickly. May we get started?"
"Very well," replied Mr. Digby, after a long pause in which he looked at us all in turn with a should I cancel? sort of look. But he didn’t, and eventually went and fetched his hat and coat. "But we agreed you’d be finished by six, yes?"
I said that this was so, and he handed me his house keys. After taking a wide berth to avoid the Quarkbeast, he climbed into his car and drove away. It’s not a good idea to have civilians around when sorcery is afoot. Even the stoutest incantations carry redundant strands of spell that can cause havoc if allowed to settle on the general public. Nothing serious ever happened; it was mostly rapid nose hair growth, oinking like a pig, blue pee, that sort of stuff. It soon wore off, but it was bad for business.
"Right," I said to the sorcerers. "Over to you."
They looked at each other, then at the ordinary suburban house.
"I used to conjure up storms," said Lady Mawgon with a sigh.
"So could we all," replied Wizard Moobin.
"Quark," said the Quarkbeast.
None of the sorcerers had rewired a house by spell before, but by reconfiguring the root directory on the core spell language of ARAMAIC, it could be done with relative ease—as long as the three of them pooled their resources. It had been Mr. Zambini’s idea to move Kazam into the home improvement market. Charming moles out of gardens, resizing stuff for the self-storage industry, and finding lost things was easy work, but it didn’t pay well. Using magic to rewire a house, however, was quite different. Unlike electricians, we didn’t need to touch the house in order to do it. No mess, no problems, and all finished in under a day.
I stood by my Volkswagen to be near the car radiophone, the most reliable form of mobile communication we had these days. Any calls to the Kazam office would ring here. I wasn’t just Kazam’s manager; I was also the receptionist, booking clerk, and taxi service. I had to look after the forty-five sorcerers, deal with the shabby building that housed us all, and fill out the numerous forms that the Magical Powers (amended 1966) Act required when even the tiniest spell was undertaken. I did all this because (1) the Great Zambini couldn’t because he was missing, (2) I’d been part of Kazam since I was twelve and knew the Mystical Arts Management business inside out, and (3) no one else wanted to.