This is a fantasy novel. Yeah, I guess so. Ya don’t see many dragons these day in Real Life. Fforde is the author of the Tuesday Next series, which I read before I started the blog, and someday I may get around to writing up those books. But now we are here to talk about dragons in this alternate world in England, where there are a number of independent kingdoms, known as the Ununited Kingdom.
He is a funny writer. Not one-liner funny, situation-funny. Our protagonist is a 16-year-old girl, a foundling, raised by the Order of the Lobster, a charitable organization, when they found her abandoned in an old Beetle Volkswagon. At age twelve, she was indentured to the Kazam Mystical Arts Management under the tutelage of its owner, Mr. “The Great” Zambini. When we meet Jennifer Strange, she is 16 and running the company, because Mr. Zambini has disappeared.
In this world magic is very hit and miss, and the wizards who can do it are a motley bunch that need all Jennifer’s skills to keep the thirty-eight barely sane sorcerers at the creaky Zambini Towers focused on their jobs. This Hereford-based company uses the now-failing power of wizards to do such mundane jobs as installing domestic electrical circuits by telepathy or delivering live organs by flying carpet.
The death of a dragon is foretold, and a four hundred year old spell starts to unfold in front of her. Does the last dragon have to die? And why has she been chosen to be the Last Dragonslayer?
Jennifer is given Exhorbitus, a sword so sharp that it cuts carbide as if it was a paper bag, and the Dragonslayer’s bullet-proof Rolls-Royce. She asks:
“Why is it called Exhorbitus?”
“Probably because it was very expensive.”
See what I mean about the funny? But what about the magic?
Explaining magic is like explaining lightning or rainbows a thousand years ago; inexplicable and wonderful but seemingly impossible. Today they are little more than equations in a science textbook. Magic is the fifth fundamental force, and even more mysterious than gravity, which is really saying something. Magic is a power lurking in all of us, an emotional energy that can be used to move objects and manipulate matter. But it doesn’t follow any physical laws that we can, as yet, understand; it exists only in our hearts and minds.
King Snod is just as greedy as anyone else, and runs a tight ship.
The King doesn’t make jokes, Miss Strange. On the rare occasion that he does he circulates a memo beforehand to avoid any misunderstandings.
We are not amused.
The book culminates in an extremely satisfying ending that I never saw coming. Maybe some of you will. You are all so much smarter than I.