If, like me, you’re a fan of Jasper Fforde’s fantasy series Thursday Next, you’ll feel a comfortable sense of familiarity reading “The Last Dragonslayer,” the first entry in his new Young Adult three-volume series The Chronicles of Kazam. (The second book, "Song of the Quarkbeast," has been published in Britain but not yet in America.)
Managing Kazam Mystical Arts Management’s 45 quirky sorcerers, with their varying gifts and powers, might make anyone wilt. But this task fell to 15-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange when Mr. Zambini mysteriously disappeared a year ago. Not only does Jennifer manage the business, but she also runs Zambini Towers, their residence. A teenager who can be in charge of all this has to possess some unusual abilities of her own.
As for the missing Mr. Zambini, he was once known as the Great Zambini, but in Fforde’s “Ununited Kingdoms,” status is connected to “wizidrical energy”—which is now in short supply. The power drain that sorely affected Mr. Zambini, also affects all other sorcerers. To get an idea of the extent of the problem, the sorcerers have gone from advising kings to being employed to perform a variety of odd jobs, like fixing electrical wiring and delivering pizzas.
During a job fixing a customer’s wiring, Jennifer and the other sorcerers notice something different—the wizidrical energy is stronger. Sometimes magical power can surge. Then again, maybe the heightened power is caused by something else.
A short time after the surge, Jennifer receives a visit from Kevin, a pre-cognitive, who has had a strong premonition that the last dragon, Maltcassion, is soon going to be killed by the last Dragonslayer. Its death is a big deal to the citizens of the Ununited Kingdoms because Maltcassion inhabits protected land, called Dragonlands. Undeveloped land is precious and everyone wants to own a large piece of it.
News of Maltcassion’s impending death spreads fast, which in turn stirs up trouble in the Ununited Kingdoms between the King of Hereford and the Duke of Brecon. Both of them start gearing up to go to war over Dragonlands, which, if the premonition comes to fruition, will be within the week.
A skillful writer, Jasper Fforde builds a believable and easily recognizable society and characters within a sci-fi setting. Living and working amidst wizards can be fun but also challenging. Occasionally, a wizard (not at Kazam) will use their power for evil. Jennifer asserts that magic can be used by evil people, but magic in and of itself isn’t evil. Also, Fforde effectively uses his fictional world to satirize our contemporary celebrity-focused society.
One of Fforde’s strengths as a novelist is that he treats his characters respectfully. Jennifer is an intelligent, capable, and courageous young woman who has to fight others for what is good and right. Her character shows great affection for others, including her pet, a Quarkbeast—an animal that most people fear.
While they generally get hoisted by their own petard, Fforde has given his evil characters moral freedom; they have the choice to act rightly or wrongly. The characters’ ugliness results from their own choice to do evil acts.
“The Last Dragonslayer” provides a powerful lesson to young adults who are constantly being fed messages of narcissism and relativism by our culture, without ever hearing moral ideas about good and evil, right and wrong. But above all, I recommend Fforde’s book because he is a zany and fun writer.
Image copyright Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Review copy obtained from the reviewer's local library.
Kim Moreland is the managing editor for the Colson Center, manages the Colson Center Library, is a research associate for BreakPoint, and writes feature articles and blog posts for BreakPoint.
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