Tag Archives: Jasper Fforde

“The Last Dragonslayer” and “The Song of the Quarkbeast” by Jasper Fforde

The Last Dragonslayer: The Chronicles of Kazam, Book 1The Song of the Quarkbeast: The Chronicles of Kazam, Book 2

We all need to read something silly now and then! This is some of the best silliness available.

These two books are part of Jasper Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam. They are listed as “for young readers” and have received awards as such, but the Library doesn’t have them marked as YA (Young Adult). Who cares? I love a good dose of fantasy now and then.

The setting of these stories is vaguely dystopic – a future Britain in which magic happens, but VERY unpredictably. The fifteen year old protagonist is a foundling, an orphaned child working out a period of indenture to pay for her Spartan but survivable upbringing in the vaguely demented convent of an unspecified religion.

In a way, our heroine’s life is what many teenagers would want – REAL work and responsibility mixed with challenge and adventure, and accompanied by friends.

I knew I was going to like these books when our heroine announced that she’d had a driver’s license since age 13, because the driving test was based on maturity, not age! Wouldn’t THAT be a nice innovation??

Anyway, when you need something to read in the doctor’s waiting room or on a train, check out Jasper Fforde. He’s also written The Thursday Next Series for adults, which takes place in The Bookworld and involves lots of time travel.

“In the Balance (World War, Book One)” by Harry Turtledove

Alternative historical fiction! A new genre to explore! And what a great idea! After all, who can resist speculating on “What if the South had won the Civil War?” So I downloaded this highly recommended book. The premise is extreme – what if space aliens had invaded Earth towards the end of World War II?

I think this would have worked better without the space aliens (any universal threat would do, like an epidemic), but they allowed for an interesting line of argument, namely that a reader of science fiction might have an advantage when communicating with bug eyed monsters. Turtledove’s monsters are rather like lizards. The point, I think, is that reading sci-fi makes you mentally flexible. I agree, as long as it’s not your only reading matter.

Despite this interesting starting point, I found the book to be plodding. The characters were interesting but their dilemmas were rather predictable.

Turtledove made one joke he didn’t intend. The aliens come from a hot, dry planet, and they are headed for a military denouement with American forces in Illinois in mid-winter. Yes, winter is coming! Let’s hear it for Game Of Thrones.

I enjoyed another book series that posited a different path for WW II. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels take place in England, but after Nazi occupation during WW II. The occupation disrupted the country so extensively that Wales separated and became an independent nation. Tensions remained. This is not the theme of the books (which deal with the manipulation of time and the tribulations of heroine Thursday Next), but it provides an interesting subtext. (I think Fforde is classified as a writer of post modernist fantasy. I like him better than the other “postmodernists” I have encountered.)

I’ll read more by Harry Turtledove if I’m faced with truly challenging boredom (say a 30 hour train ride), but for now, I’m moving on to other authors.

How many shades?!

I read Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Gray three years ago. At the time, all I wrote about it was that I didn’t want to live in the strange dystopia Fforde created. Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? But I did look forward to the promised second book in the series, Shades of Gray 2: Painting by Numbers. It didn’t materialize, so I wasn’t able to further follow the amusing characters from Shades of Gray.

Instead, along came Fifty Shades of Gray by E L James. What’s an author to do? This book, promoted as the first of a trilogy, attracted more attention, and of a different sort, than Fforde’s fantasy novel. It is listed as being for “mature audiences” and was dubbed “Mommy porn”, whatever that means. No, I didn’t read it…

THEN what turns up (in the entertainment section of my local paper) but “Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody”! It is described as a sharp witted, satirical musical comedy which includes strip tease and audience interaction. A little web surfing revealed that it is “unauthorized” and has a cast of three. Most reviews say its funny and, like Fifty Shades of Gray, appeals mostly to women. 

I would imagine E L James is peeved, though perhaps any publicity is good publicity. I wonder if Jasper Fforde would like a parody of Shades of Grey to be produced? I certainly would! Musical comedy dashes off in all sorts of strange directions (consider “Urinetown”). 

Whatever next?!

Mr. Fforde, please release the next volume of Shades of Grey. I promise to buy it, in hardcover no less!