The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
This ferociously inventive and satirical novel is set in a 21st Century Britain divided into dozens of squabbling principalities called the Ununited Kingdoms. Magic openly exists in this world, once it was the driving force of civilization but over the centuries it has dwindled. Long ago the greatest wizard ever forced the powerful and terrifying dragons to live on special reservations bounded by force fields that disintegrate any human interlopers. The Dragonlands are pristine natural areas kept free of farms, freeways, and factories, and in return people can go about their routines without being gobbled up by giant flying reptiles. All thanks to the mighty wizard Shandar, the like of whom we shan't see again.
Nowadays the greatest magic practitioners of the age have to hustle odd jobs like finding lost keys, enchanting moles out of a garden, or rewiring a house without having to cut into the walls. Kazam Magical Arts Management is an agency that arranges these jobs and handles all the paperwork for the notoriously disorganized wizards. Forms have to be filled out for even the smallest spell. The punishments for ignoring this modern bureaucracy are very old-fashioned-- burning at the stake. Kazam is currently run by Jennifer Strange, two months away from her sixteenth birthday but extremely bright and competent. She is a foundling; there is a whole industry that contracts orphans in indentured servitude until their eighteenth birthday. Jennifer could have done worse than being in charge of a bunch of highly temper mental magic-users who all live with her in a big converted hotel filled with all sorts of quirks and enchantments. It certainly never gets boring.
Things get a lot less boring when some of her precognitive clients and other soothsayers in the Kingdom of Hereford predict the coming death of the very last dragon. With the demise of the fearsome and unseen dragon Maltcassion the hundreds of square miles of Dragonland will be up for grabs. More tantalizing still, there are predictions of a coming Big Magic, which no one can explain but has all the kingdoms in a tizzy. Jennifer and her friends at Kazam are swept up in the greedy plots of politicians, corporations, and the media. She will meet all sorts of weird characters, benign and menacing, and uncover her own destiny.
Jasper Fforde has amazed us with his brilliant Thursday Next novels and the Nursery Crimes. He loads his pages with astounding imagination and gleefully lampoons the status quo. Jennifer Strange's world comes alive with lots of odd details. The Last Dragonslayer is the first in a series for younger readers. It came out in the UK two years ago and I am looking forward to reading the further brainy and funny Chronicles of Kazam.
Reviewed by Chris, Compass Books SFO