"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 28, 2015
The Last Dragonslayer: Quirky and Imaginative
by Erin Cowles

Anyone that has known me for five minutes knows that I adore books. When I jokingly told my four-year-old that I was going to keep hugging him for five years, he replied, “No, mommy, you need to go to book group and read books with me.” Smart kid.

But what may be lesser known is how much I love learning about books. Goodreads, book lists, book reviews, podcasts, BookTube, class syllabi … you get the picture. Reading makes me see the world a little differently, and it thrills me to know I'll always have something new to learn.

Consequently, my “to read” list is epic, and my time is limited. I know what I like, and I'm very selective in what I read.

I took myself by surprise last month and grabbed a book I'd never heard of off a library display — Jasper Fforde's The Last Dragonslayer. I enjoyed approaching a book without expectations, and I found this book to be quirky, imaginative, and fun.

Jennifer Strange has her hands full. Her magician boss has disappeared, so she finds herself running Kazam Mystical Arts Management, a financially challenged employment agency/residence for a cast of quirky magicians. Magical power has been on the decline, so her magicians find themselves reduced to using magic to fix plumbing problems and deliver pizzas via flying carpet to make ends meet.

Suddenly, Jennifer finds herself declared “the Last Dragonslayer,” prophesied to kill the only remaining dragon in the Un-united Kingdom.

The magical world is unsure if their power is linked to the dragons' life force, or if his death will bring about “big magic” that will restore magicians to their former glory. Political and corporate forces scheme to capture the dragon's lands when he dies, and Jennifer finds herself in the middle of their maneuvering.

But there's an even bigger problem: Jennifer rather likes the dragon and doesn't want to slay him.

Large and conflicting forces are at play, and Jennifer sets out to find a path where she can do the right thing … although doing the right thing gets downright complicated.

This novel's world is playful, big-hearted, and creative. I usually favor characters over world building, but interestingly enough, my favorite aspect of this book is its non-human inhabitants. The dragon was intelligent, wise, and intriguing. I especially enjoyed Jennifer's quarkbeast — a creature that despite “looking like an open knife drawer on legs” was actually a “big sweetie.”

I also greatly appreciated how integrity drove Jennifer's actions. She lacks magic or political force, but her devotion to living true to her beliefs gave her power her rivals couldn't conquer.

This book is spotlessly clean — no sex or substance abuse, and the violence is handled with a very soft touch.

It isn't a perfect book. I found its critique of consumer culture a bit heavy-handed, and his momentum was off in places. That said, his world-building is strong, and he's set the stage well for the following books in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast and The Eye of Zoltar, with another installment in the works.

Read this book if …

  • Your clever plays on words go over your friends' heads. You'll appreciate Fforde's playfulness with the English language.

  • You like a little quirkiness and silliness, but still want a sensible plot.

  • You secretly wish you could have a magical creature for a pet. You'll be wanting your own quarkbeast by the time you finish.

Target audience: Ages 10-16.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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