I read Jasper Fford’s Tuesday Next series, and I liked it for a while. I got bored after about book 4. So when I saw a YA fantasy novel by the same author, I wanted to try it out. The Last Dragonslayer was mostly what I expected, and also a little not. What defines Fford’s writing for me is a sense of slightly off-kilter in an otherwise normal story, and that is totally here.
The normal is as follows: 15 year old indentured servant Jennifer Strange (I’m surprised there weren’t more jokes about this name) is the de-facto head of Kazam Mystical Arts in the wake of the disappearance of Mr. Zambini, an employment agency for magic-users in a world where magic has been getting steadily weaker. It’s almost a metaphor for a world undergoing an energy crisis. Said agency is of course filled with basically decent but difficult people like Full Price (who has a brother, Half), Lady Mawgon, and Wizard Moobin.
Part of the plot involves Jennifer introducing fellow foundling/indentured servant Tiger Prawns (get it?) to his job as her new assistant, and part 2 of the plot involves Jennifer navigating the political situation. In this world, dragons and people are separated by a magical barrier that only a Dragonslayer can cross. There’s only ever 1 of these, and they are basically there to keep the peace between the two side. Problem is now, there is only 1 dragon alive, and the humans are getting ready to go to war against each other to claim the land of the dragons, since land and business are essential in a world with diminishing magic. Jennifer is turned into the last Dragonslayer before she knows what’s going on. She then has to figure out what’s going on politically between the king of Hereford, the dragon Maltcassion, and the duke of Brecon. She does all this accompanied by her Quarkbeast, who looks scary but is really nice once you get to know it.
The off-kilter comes from the bad jokes which are still kind of funny, and the way characters just accept the absurdities they encounter, whether it is absurd to the reader or often to the characters as well. Then there’s things like Hereford’s main hero/celebrity Sir Matt Grifflon, who is both a pop star and politically ambitious. Sir Matt irritates me, and not because of his vaguely villainous qualities. I just find the premise of a pop singer who also wants the glory of slaying the last dragon to open the land up for commercial use kinda stupid.
I did like the ending though. Jennifer gets through things, the dragon problem is resolved in a good, not completely cliche way, and magic is released back into the world. This is a Big Magic, a concept which is never fully explained but is basically like a re-fill of power to the whole world that is uncontrolled and not really understood even in the world of the story.
Two sequels are out, and I hope that the silliness continues.