Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Last Dragonslayer

You'd think a book with the title The Last Dragonslayer would be high fantasy or at least sport a fierce-looking dragon on the cover. Not this one. There are various covers for this book by British author Jasper Fforde, but my advance reader's copy has an old-school VW bug on the front, and that's about it. The image doesn't match the title, does it? But that title and that image together match the book perfectly.

The story takes place in some sort of modern-day other-Europe where kings rule and magicians are losing power and one last dragon remains. Jennifer Strange is a foundling, raised by nuns and then sent for a six-year term of servitude to a magician employment agency. It's actually a good job for a foundling, and Jennifer does it well, managing the affairs of the kingdom's last magicians, making sure they fill out the correct magic-usage forms and getting the weakening magicians minor jobs here and there, mainly magical housework and repairs.

But when magic mysteriously begins to increase and a prophecy predicts the death of the last dragon by noon on Sunday, Jennifer suddenly finds herself in the middle of a hectic week dealing with greedy rulers, conniving knights, temperamental magicians, and a new apprentice or two, not to mention her own evolving identity.

In case you haven't felt the vibe yet, this is a quirky book. Part modern urban fantasy, part something-I-haven't-put-my-finger-on-yet, this book is surely unlike anything in its genre on the market right now. It's targeted toward young adults, but it doesn't quite feel like a young adult book. In fact, Fforde has written other novels, but this is his debut young adult book. The heroine is a teenager, but the storytelling style and narration feel geared toward a different generation, or at least a different set of teens than your standard readers of Twilight and The Hunger Games. It's more cerebral, a tiny bit on the literary side, with tongue-in-cheek humor only the more nerdy teen here and there might get.

It's refreshing if you can get used to the style. For me, it was kind of slow-going at first. I enjoyed it, but I didn't feel compelled to read it in one go. The end goes a little faster. The beginning has a lot of set-up, maybe too much, I'm not sure.

The morals are good. There's no romance (again, not your typical young adult). The story is unique in a sort of "what if" way. And if you like it, it's a series, though I felt like the book ended more satisfactorily than many series books, and I don't feel like I'd have to read more. That might not be the best thing for the author, but I liked having a solid ending. Final verdict: three stars, but I'm keeping it on my shelf because there just isn't much else like it out there.

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