The Last Dragonslayer
by Jasper Fforde
Harcourt, 2010, US edition 2012
The Last Dragonslayer is the beginning of a new comic fantasy series by Jasper Fforde. While I certainly enjoyed it, if you have not yet read any of his works I would recommend starting with The Eyre Affair, which is a better introduction to his style and sense of humor.
The story is set in an alternate history, one in which the United Kingdom never united, magic never died, and everything is just a bit sillier. We follow the adventures of Jennifer Strange, a 15-year-old foundling who has been indentured to the Kazam magic agency to help them take care of the day-to-day office work. Unfortunately, her boss has disappeared, and she is stuck managing a bunch of aging wizards who are, along with the rest of the world, slowly but surely losing their powers. And, perhaps, in some cases, their minds.
Thankfully she has her quarkbeast to help her, a mysterious magical beast which looks like a cross between a velociraptor and... something worse. And then she has Tiger, a young foundling sent to replace her once she turns 16 and... well, she's not sure yet, but she may not be managing the wizards any more. Life would be confusing enough, but the kingdom(s) are set a-tizzy at a burst of prophesies predicting that the last dragon will die soon (this Sunday, to be exact, at noon). This has important geopolitical implications, but it may also have something to do with why the magic has been slowly draining from the ununited kingdoms for these past few decades. As you might expect, a surprising and unusual adventure follows.
This is admittedly a silly book, but it is a good one. Fforde is a master of intelligent silliness, and while this is not a showcase work, it is a very good read. The story is engaging and works as a fantasy and a mystery in its own right, all silliness aside. And the odd bits are not there to be wacky, but to be clever, interesting, surprising, or to move the plot along without you noticing it, which is just how silliness should be used.
The Last Dragonslayer is very Ffordian, but it is not quite as chaotic as his recent Shades of Grey, being closer to The Big Over Easy in tone -- although a shorter and lighter read. The characters are fun and interesting, the world is completely new but very recognizable as Fforde, and while it isn't as surprising and comical as some of his works, it is not a disappointment.
There is currently one sequel to The Last Dragonslayer, The Song of the Quarkbeast, but it is still hard to find in America. There is a third book planned for sometime in
2013 2014 2015, although who knows when that will reach the colonies...