The Last Dragonslayer

The Last DragonslayerI’m a huge fan of the Thursday Next series, so I was excited when Jasper Fforde wrote his first book for younger readers. The Last Dragonslayer has much in common with Fforde’s other books. It features a competent female character calmly solving problems in the center of a collection of bizarre characters and situations. It also takes place in an England that never was—in this case, the Ununited Kingdoms.

Jennifer Strange is the almost sixteen year old who runs Kazam, a company that hires out wizards for tasks like ridding your garden of moles or fixing your plumbing. Magic has been fading, so the great wizards of the time are reduced to performing mundane tasks. Since the Great Zambini, who founded Kazam, disappeared, Jennifer has been dealing with a lot on her own. When a strong premonition says that the last dragon will be killed this coming weekend, her life really gets turned on its head.

The main reason this book is Young Adult instead of Middle Grade is that a decent amount of the humor involves bureaucracy, marketing, propaganda, and social expectations. Any kid who’s helped deal with the paperwork for school or extracurricular activities will probably see the humor in some of what Jennifer Strange faces running a magic employment agency and the companies that come knocking at her door when she becomes a celebrity.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Ageism and Sexism

I half wanted to see this book animated in the style of Phineas & Ferb since so many people asked Jennifer “Aren’t you a little young to be (fill in the blank)?” And when they weren’t questioning her age, they were often questioning whether a girl could really fill the roles she was filling. Once she becomes a celebrity, she starts getting lots of marriage proposals. However, Jennifer pretty much just ignores all of this, shooting back a flip comment when she has time, or simply continuing to do what’s required of her despite the apparent hindrances of being an almost sixteen year old girl.

When twelve year old Tiger arrives at Kazam, Jennifer doesn’t look down on him because he’s young. She quickly realizes that he’s very bright and she trusts him to take on responsibilities.

Indentured Servitude

Jennifer is a foundling. She was raised in an orphanage and sent to Kazam when she was twelve. She must stay there until she gains her freedom at eighteen, assuming the Great Zambini returns to sign the proper paperwork. She has no real say over her life, although she’s not abused either. When Tiger, also a foundling, arrives at Kazam, it complicates things a bit because she only has to survive another two years there, but she knows he has six years before he can gain his freedom. She’s very conscious of not making things harder for him.

When one of the wizards gets annoyed with Tiger and Jennifer, she makes it very clear that she can have them shipped back to the orphanage. As foundlings, the kids have very little power to do anything about that.


The country is still recovering from the devastating Troll Wars, which is how Tiger’s parents were killed and why he’s a foundling. There are lots of references to war widows and orphans. Protecting these people is part of what drives Jennifer. As the situation with the last dragon escalates, Jennifer tries to prevent her king from entering into yet another war—but he’s obviously been itching for one, building these huge landships that could easily destroy other armies.

Power and Responsibility

Jennifer and Tiger have no power when the book starts out. Jennifer learns throughout the course of the novel that she’s much more powerful than she suspects, and she has to learn how to use that. She’s tempted by royal titles, money, fame, interviews, her freedom, and pretty much anything she could want, but she stands strong and does what feels right to her. Those who are truly on her side, like Tiger, understand this and also make sacrifices so she can stand up for her principles.

There are many examples of others who have not been so pure. The king and the people who represent businesses are all pretty awful.

A surge of emotion is required to make something magical happen. It turns out that avarice is the easiest human emotion to make surge in great quantities in one place at one time. The fact that I read this book after Black Friday drove home this point for me.

Trust and Appearances

Few people are what they appear. It’s hard to tell who is really on your side, and it’s probably worth remembering that many people are on their own side and will only truly help when their goals overlap with yours. Even people who are on your side may be less than honest, for a variety of reasons.

The Quarkbeast may be the best example of appearances being deceiving. He’s Jennifer’s companion, and he looks absolutely terrifying. However, he’s not inherently dangerous, despite razor sharp teeth and a propensity to eat metal. He’s sweet and intelligent and helpful, even if all he can say is “Quark.” However, when driven to it, he can in fact be deadly.


The previous dragonslayer dies, turning into dust. He was really old, though, and this is more inconvenient than traumatic. Aside from that, I thought we were going to escape most death in this book. Then, in the last few pages, the Quarkbeast is shot and killed, a minor (and traitorous) character disintegrates and Jennifer knowingly helps that happen, and she kills the last dragon, even though it’s at the dragon’s request. The Quarkbeast is the most surprising death and it doesn’t seem like it was necessary. That’s the one that I think will bug my kids, possibly a lot.


It is, in many ways, a very British book. If your kid enjoys Monty Python or Doctor Who, this is probably a good choice. It has a ridiculous sense of humor, so it’s perfect for kids who enjoyed Daniel Pinkwater’s books but are ready for something a little more grown up. It requires a certain maturity and life experience to see the parody of our modern world, but most 11 and 12 year olds I know are ready for it. Yes, it has a female protagonist, but it will appeal to boys as much as girls.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Published in 2010 by Hodder & Stoughton
First in The Chronicles of Kazam, followed by The Song of the Quarkbeast
Read my personal copy

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