My appreciation for Jasper Fforde and his novels knows no bounds. The Thursday Next series was and continues to be brilliant; the Nursery Crimes series, while not quite as interesting, was still terribly clever; and the beginning of the Chromatacia series didn’t disappoint. So it was without hesitation that I bought this YA novel, since it had Fforde’s name on the cover.
In The Last Dragonslayer, Fforde takes us to a modern-day England where magic is present, dragons exist (well, a dragon exists), and people are having premonitions of a big, big change coming soon. The main character, Jennifer Strange, runs an agency that uses wizards for modern-day repairs. Apparently, it’s a lot easier for wizards to magic out old pipes and replace them with something better, instead of a plumber ripping out walls to have to do the same thing. Wizards don’t live the glamorous life, but they can still make a living. But when a new wizardly recruit joins the agency, and the premonitions of the last dragon dying start to become more prevalent, things start to become more and more engaging for Jennifer.
The story is very much a typical Fforde one, but not because it has the cleverness and witticisms of his previous works. In fact, I found that a lot of that was missing in the book; is it because the book was targeted for a younger audience, and he didn’t want to lose his readers? I don’t know. But what really makes this story a Fforde one is through the character of Jennifer Strange. She is very much a Thursday Next clone in personality. She’s clever and fast-thinking, and smarter than those who are trying to undermine her efforts. She manages an organization that’s always threatening to come apart at the seams, and knows all the ins-and-outs of the regulations that run the organization. She’s become so familiar with the oddness of her job that she takes all the new quirks and weirdness of her days in stride. She even has a pet with a one-word vocabulary! I guess if the character has proven to be successful, then it’s easy to import that same character into a story for a younger audience, but I was disappointed that she was so similar to Thursday.
The story also jumps back and forth from being a serious story to being a comedy of errors, but that’s pretty typical of all Fforde’s work, so that’s not so much a complaint as it is a characteristic. And it’s not a bad story, to be honest, but it just seems very weak and light, compared to his other series. To see Fforde move from the light-heartedness of both the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series to the more serious Chromatacia series suggested that he was moving on to deeper territory. To then read what seems to be a step backward behind all three series was a bit of a let-down. It’s a good book, no doubt, and certainly something to suggest to younger readers looking to scratch the modern fantasy itch, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been a lot better.
That being said, if this turns out to be a series, I’m sure I’ll keep reading them. Fforde’s a natural when it comes to telling a story, and really, isn’t that most important?