The Last Dragonslayer
The Chronicles of Kazam Book One
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group, October 2012
From the publisher—
In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic.
Jennifer Strange, who will be 16 years old in two weeks, is an indentured servant till 18 and, as such, runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management. Jennifer has a knack for handling fractious practitioners of magic and is always accompanied by a loveable critter, Quarkbeast. Quark is 1/10 Labrador and 9/10 velociraptor and kitchen blender and absolutely adores Jennifer for taking him home when she found him at Starbucks.
Then, one day, Jennifer meets a fellow named Brian Spalding who lives at the Dragonstation and drives an armored Rolls-Royce he calls the Slayermobile. Brian is the outgoing dragonslayer and he is intent upon making Jennifer his apprentice. Apprentice for what? Well, it seems an old dragon, Maltcassion, lives in a sanctuary/wilderness known as the Dragonlands and he is supposed to die next Sunday at noon at the hands of a Dragonslayer wielding a sword named Exhorbitus. Unfortunately, Brian disappears rather precipitously before Jennifer feels quite prepared so she hires her own apprentice Dragonslayer, Gordon van Gordon Gordonson ap Gordon-Gordon of Gordon.
So why does Maltcassion have to die next Sunday at noon? Come to find out there have been three Dragonattacks and that voids the Dragonpact that has protected him. One minor detail—by ancient decree, a dragon’s land belongs to whoever claims it when he dies and that brings out the worst of greed in an awful lot of people. In this world, commerce is mightier than kings and celebrities and The Consolidated Useful Stuff Land Development Corporation is ready to take advantage of the decree.
Jasper Fforde is one of my favorite authors and I so wanted to love this book but I just can’t quite say that I do. There’s not much joy in this story even though there is a lot of humor. Heavyhanded agendas like greed, environmentalism, trashy media and product endorsements got in the way of the pure enjoyment I usually get when reading a Fforde tale and I also felt there were far too many characters, making it difficult to care a lot about most of them. Have I been permanently turned off? Of course not—the author may not have been at the top of his game with this one, his first young adult novel, but it’s just as possible that I read it in the wrong mood. The second in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is already out in the UK so it should be showing up here in the US next fall and I’ll definitely be reading it.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2013.