The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, 287 pages.
Publisher: Harcourt, 2012.
Jennifer Strange is just a foundling, working out her apprenticeship for Kazam Mystical Arts Management. She's 14, in charge of a stable of magicians who have become increasingly weak over the years, so that they are reduced to tasks like clearing drains and delivering pizza (via magic carpet, of course). The world is changing, and she just wants to keep her head down, keep her orange VW Bug running, and have everything continue as it always has in the Ununited Kingdoms. But Big Magic is afoot, and before she knows it, she is at the center of it, destined to be the last Dragonslayer and scheduled to slay the last dragon, whether she wants to or not.
Fforde's first children's book (more or less children's; this strikes me as somewhat like my own books: adult fiction masquerading as Middle Grade fiction) grabbed me from the first page when Jennifer, three magicians, and the quarkbeast drive up in her "rust-and-orange-but-mostly-rust Volkswagen" to rewire a house. The author's light hand with absurdity and well-developed sense that something more is going on caught and held my attention. As the situation develops, it seems an insoluble problem, and I didn't see the solution coming until the very end. There is, in my opinion, just the right balance of tension, humor, fantasy, and reality (especially with regard to human nature; indeed it may be a little cynical for the younger set). The language is good, editing excellent, and pacing near perfect. My only complaint is that the character of Tiger Prawns, the 7th Foundling to be sent to Kazam as an indentured servant, seems to be brought in and left without a clear purpose. I have a feeling he'll have more of a role in subsequent books in the series--which I will be reading.
Highly recommended for older children and adults who have a sense of humor and enjoy a good yarn.
I checked The Last Dragonslayer out of my library, and received nothing from the author or publisher for this review, which is my opinion and only mine.