The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde

The Last DragonslayerI remember being really excited a couple of years ago to find out that my beloved author Jasper Fforde was coming out with a children’s book. I noted the release date and kept an eye out for it at my new and old libraries, but it never showed up. I was quite baffled by this seeming lack of love for the Fforde until I realized that, oh no!, it was only being released in the UK with no US date forthcoming. The agony!

Luckily I could content myself with One of Our Thursdays is Missing a few months later, and then things got real busy anyway and The Last Dragonslayer was relegated to the back of my mind until one day, a couple weeks before Christmas, it just showed up on my cart of books to catalog and I was like, so there is a Santa, then.

And oh, how delightful this book was to read. It’s your basic Fforde setup, taking magic and dragons and kingdoms in conflict and envisioning them tied up in eight layers of bureaucracy and apathy. We follow the exploits of Jennifer Strange, a fifteen-year-old who is acting head of a magical agency that sends out wizards to do things like rewire houses since magic is not quite as powerful as it once was. She’s doing quite all right until word gets out from some future-seers that the last dragon is about to be killed by the Last Dragonslayer, that the dragon’s lands are already surrounded by mobs looking to stake their claim, and that more than a few companies would be willing to pay good money if Miss Strange just hands over a bit of information from her agency’s own future-seer.

That’s not nearly all, of course; things get much weirder and even if you can tell where this plot is going, you probably don’t know how it’s going to get there. Fforde piles on the ridiculousness and the dry humor and all the fantastic-ness I’ve come to expect from him but still I’m never quite sure what is going on in that mind of his.

I think this book is especially good because it’s a first book in a series — Fforde excels in world-building and it’s always delightful to see how his new universes work. As much as I enjoy every Thursday Next book that comes out, it’s nice to have a fresh new set of characters and settings to cleanse the Fforde palate. 🙂 How long until the second book comes stateside?

Recommendation: For lovers of the Fforde or weird things in general or dragons or magic or… really, I think you should just read this.

Rating: 9/10

Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards!I’ve vaguely known about Terry Pratchett and Discworld for years, but was never really interested in reading any of it. Then my brother’s girlfriend started showing up to family events with her nose buried in a Pratchett book, a new one for every event, and since I generally trust her opinions I figured I’d give the guy a try. So when I found myself in one of my favorite Cleveland bookstores with some time to kill, I picked the one that sounded most interesting and it came home with me.

And apparently I was lucky in my book choice! According to the bro’s girlfriend you don’t have to read the series in publication order, but you should read the individual storylines in order, and this book is the first in the “City Watch” storyline. Good work, self! If you are of another mind about how to read Discworld (I hear there are many of these minds), well, oops?

So, anyway, back to this particular book… Guards! Guards! is a weird little story that is part miniature epic fantasy novel and part commentary on epic fantasy novels. It reminds me a bit of Redshirts, except without a weird and headache-causing twist in the middle. I’m not super well versed in classic fantasy, but I knew enough about swords and magic and DRAGONS to get me through this one!

‘Cause see, there’s a Brotherhood of… Something… whose leader decides it’s totes time for change in city leadership, so he summons up a dragon to come kill a few people here and there so that the leader can bring in a ringer to be the long-lost rightful heir to the throne of said city, Ankh-Morpork, and then have lots of power or whatever. As you do. But there is also a bumbling sort of police force called the City Watch who are usually just for show, but with the addition of an officer who has actually read the book of laws they end up investigating the whole “appearance of a heretofore imaginary dragon” thing. There’s also a whole bunch of other stuff that happens, including the theft of a book from a library which leads to some fantastic quotes about libraries and bookstores and magic and whatnot, so that’s awesome.

And really, I think those quotable lines, of which there are many, are what this book is about. The plot is pretty simple and straightforward, but it is not shy about dashing off on a tangent for the sake of a joke or even a pun. I approve, and I approve also of Pratchett’s ability to use fantasy clichés to alternately advance the story (e.g. this is how things work in fantasy novels, so therefore this thing works) and to completely derail it (e.g. this is how things work in fantasy novels, too bad this is actually real life!) — sometimes using the same cliché to both ends!

I found this book “reasonably amusing” (to quote myself) and a perfect sort of brain-candy read, and I will definitely pick up another Pratchett book in the future, if I can ever figure out which one should come next!

Recommendation: For fans of British humor (i.e. Douglas Adams, Monty Python) and fantasy novels and satire and fun.

Rating: 7/10
(RIP)