Review posted October 30, 2012.
Harcourt, Boston, 2012. 287 pages.
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #10 Teen Fiction
Hooray! Jasper Fforde has taken his silliness, his clever quirkiness, and written a fantasy novel for young adults. The world seems fairly similar to ours -- only with magic and dragons. And strange, quirky details, like marzipan mines and the poor and downtrodden marzipan addicts.
The front page of the book -- right before Chapter One -- tells exactly what happens:
Once, I was famous. My face was seen on T-shirts, badges, commemorative mugs, and posters. I made front-page news, appeared on TV, and was even a special guest on The Yogi Baird Daytime TV Show. The Daily Clam called me "the year's most influential teenager," and I was the Mollusc on Sunday's Woman of the Year. Two people tried to kill me, I was threatened with jail, had fifty-eight offers of marriage, and was outlawed by King Snodd IV. All that and more besides, and in less than a week.
My name is Jennifer Strange.
Jennifer Strange starts out the book managing a house full of magicians. She's almost sixteen, a foundling, and an indentured servant, and she doesn't have any magic herself, but their founder has disappeared, and she's far more practical than any magic-user, so the post has fallen to her.
When a premonition comes up that the Last Dragon is about to die, the whole country (and others besides) is in uproar. Because when a dragon dies, his lands can be divided up, on a first-come, first-served basis. When it turns out to have been foreseen that Jennifer is the Last Dragonslayer, she finds herself in the very center of earth-shaking events.
This paragraph about those who work for Kazam Mystical Arts Management will give you an idea of the style:
Of the forty-five sorcerers, movers, soothsayers, shifters, weather-mongers, carpeteers, and other assorted mystical artisans at Kazam, most were fully retired due to infirmity, insanity, or damage to the vital index fingers, either through accident or rheumatoid arthritis. Of these forty-five, thirteen were potentially capable of working, but only nine had current licenses -- two carpeteers, a pair of pre-cogs, and most important, five sorcerers legally empowered to carry out Acts of Enchantment. Lady Mawgon was certainly the crabbiest and probably the most skilled. As with everyone else at Kazam, her powers had faded dramatically over the past three decades or so, but unlike everyone else, she'd not really come to terms with it. In her defense, she'd had farther to fall than the rest of them, but this wasn't really an excuse. The Sisters Karamazov could also claim once-royal patronage, and they were nice as apricot pie. Mad as a knapsack of onions, but pleasant nonetheless.
When I finished this book, I actually laughed happily. It is highly possible that you have to have a similar sense of humor to truly enjoy Jasper Fforde's work, but I certainly do. This book definitely stands alone just fine, and the story is complete in itself. All the same, I'm very happy to see "The Chronicles of Kazam, Book One" on the title page, because it will definitely be fun to visit this world again.
I suspect that fans of Jasper Fforde's books for adults will enjoy this one as well. The quirkiness and esoteric references are toned down a tiny bit, the book is shorter and the protagonist younger, but the flavor is the same. And I do hope that it will capture some fans for him much younger than before. Who says high fantasy has to be deadly serious? This is a book that will make nerdy teens laugh, and I say that with utmost respect.