An Audio-Book Review: Once, I was Famous…
The Last Dragonslayer
By Jasper Fforde
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Read by Jane Collingwood
Readers of this blog may recall that I blew hot and cold on Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series. I thought he had an excellent notion in his “Book World,” a universe in which all the characters of every story ever written existed, coming out to play their parts whenever those stories were being read in the “Real World.” However, I thought he over-reached somewhat in establishing his fictional world, especially in the Thursday Next series where the so-called “Real World” was an alternate universe as well, with nearly every fantasy and science fiction cliché as well as an alternative history. All told it was just too much. I think even he realized that and attempted to retcon his universe as the series progressed, but usually each change just made the situation worse in my eyes
The Nursery Crime series, which was vaguely related to the Thursday Next series was somewhat simpler, but still did not quite make it. It is hard to pin down, but I got the impression that he was still trying to hard and the fictional characters who were nursery rhyme people living in a sort of real world (that still was not ours) while amusing and intriguing in concept just did not hold up.
So it was with some trepidation that I started listening to The Last Dragon Slayer. I need not have been worried. This time Mister Fforde crafted an alternative world that works. It still has a highly improbable alternative history with a poorly defined point of divergence from our own, which seems to be his trademark, but because he did not dwell on all the details nor did he try to fit in every fantasy trope and cliché into the story, it was far easier to swallow. Admittedly he still had an odd alternative religious order (The Sisters of the Lobster who run an orphanage in the Kingdom of Hereford) and an evil (or at least greedy) corporation (Consolidated Stuff) and a power-hungry, despotic, (and possibly inherently stupid) king named Snodd IV, but young Jennifer Strange (a foundling from the above orphanage) who runs the magic association known as Kazam Mystical Arts Management along with the help of Tiger Prawn (another orphan) is both endearing and capable of holding the story together.
Jennifer, manages to stumble into the job of official Dragonslayer and there is only one dragon left and it has been foretold by numerous prophets (some of whom work for Kazam) that dragon will die soon. But is the job of Dragonslayer what she thinks it is? And if she actually does her job will she be guilty of the extermination of an intelligent (and personable) species? And if she does, who will claim the three hundred fifty acres of what had been the dragon’s land by treaty? The story is a lot of fun and will hold you to the very last page.
I loved the reading by Jane Collingwood. I think she really brought the character of Jennifer Strange to life as a real teen-ager, and yet was able to modulate her voice enough that male characters did not sound like young women as well. For that matter older female characters were easy to distinguish from Jennifer as well. The Jennifer character is quite a complex one. A young woman she might be, but she is quite serious-minded and capable of riding herd on an odd collection of ornery wizards and other magic users. While she might have been surprised at her sudden appointment as dragonslayer, she turns out to have been the perfect choice and Ms. Collingwood somehow managed to capture Jennifer’s youth without making her seem too young and innocent to do the job.
So, all in all, I found this book to be a delightful surprise and I definitely look forward to listening to her read the next book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast.