Jennifer Strange is far too young to be in charge of running anything, but at Kazam Mystical Arts Management, she’s all they’ve got. The real boss, the Great Zambini, disappeared in a puff of smoke at a child’s birthday party and hasn’t been seen or heard from in six months. Nearly 16, Jennifer is actually an indentured servant, loaned to Kazam until age 18 by the nuns who run the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster orphanage, at whose curb she was abandoned as a baby. Despite her tender age, Jennifer is mostly unfazed by the hand she’s been dealt, which is much to her credit -- because it’s a doozy.
Kazam is both where wizards live and how they find work, but her boarders are an “argumentative, infantile, passionate, and temperamental” lot, and the magic industry is in a major slump. Also, some of the, um, talent, are not completely right in the head. When the latest foundling arrives (Kazam gets a new apprentice every two years), Jennifer takes care to introduce him to the “least insane residents” first. “Welcome to Kazam,” she tells him, “To call it a madhouse would insult even the maddest of madhouses.”
That said, plucky Jennifer loves her job. As an orphan, she is appreciative of being needed, and Kazam has its perks – a perpetually refilling cookie tin, for instance. She’s adopted a Quarkbeast, an animal with razor-sharp teeth and a Labrador’s loyalty, as her personal pet, and, though not of legal driving age yet, she’s taught herself to motor around safely in the rusty Volkswagen Beetle she was found abandoned in as an infant.
It might be difficult to imagine that Jennifer’s world – a place in which it is not uncommon to enter a room and find it carpeted with live toads – could be rocked by any new event, but when she learns she is the Last Dragonslayer and that the last dragon on earth, Maltcassion, is prophesied to die -- at her hand -- on Sunday-- she is truly stunned. Jennifer has no intention of killing any creature, least of all this dragon, whose death will erase the force-field protecting the Dragonlands, unleashing a tsunami of greedy developers, including the tyrannical King Snodd IV.
There’s a lot of set-up here for what will be a series, (Fforde is Welsh and the books have already been released in Great Britain), but it’s all very inventive and charming. Fforde, who writes the Nursery Crime spoofs for adult readers, has the right kind of humor – a bit goofy, a tad surreal -- for teens. Those who most appreciated the humor and clever world-building of the Harry Potter books may well find a new fantastical realm to bury themselves in here.
Reviewed by: SC
Themes: Fantasy, Humor, Magic and Magicians, Orphans
Suggested Ages: 12-up