Friday, October 23, 2015

What we're reading: Teen books?

Maybe not!

I'm talking about bestselling author Jasper Fforde's series for teens, the Chronicles of Kazam, otherwise known as The Last Dragonslayer, The Song of the Quark Beast, and The Eye of Zoltar (with a fourth book still to come in 2016). The 6+7 Book Club (that's grades six and seven, so the members are 11, 12, or 13 years old) chose the first of the series as its October book, and it received possibly the most varied ratings (two people rated it 10 out of 10, while two others rated it 1 out of 10!) of any book we have read. We teen librarians were surprised by this...but having thought through some of the reasons why, I'm inclined to think that the sophistication of the underlying messages is simply too opaque for young teens with little understanding of the history involved, and that this series may be more suited to adults who like tongue-in-cheek fantasy fun.

The writing style is lively, with good pacing and lots of detail. But what the teens found puzzling were the very things that made me so amused by the series: The world in which it is set is a contemporary one, almost realistic but for the addition of wizards, magic, and various mythical creatures (the familiar dragons, plus the more fictional Quark Beasts and Tralfamosaurs). The setting is the "Ununited Kingdoms," a satirical commentary (I assume) on the United Kingdom (Great Britain), from where Fforde hails. (He was born in England but lives in Wales.) The depiction of the monarchy and its ridiculously complex bureaucracy, the commentary on corporate greed and tabloid values, and even the little touches (like the never-empty teapot and the "biscuit" jar that always has two cookies in it) are so quintessentially British, yet with the potential to pillory any contemporary culture.

The main protagonist is Jennifer Strange, an almost-16-year-old foundling who was sold into indentured servitude to Kazam, a House of Enchantment (home for wizards) run by The Great Zambini. But a couple of years into her term, Zambini disappears, leaving her to cope with an old hotel full of both former and current sorcerers, a group of eccentric personalities if there ever was one. Big Magic is afoot, the resident precognitive (The Remarkable Kevin Zipp) has predicted the death of the last dragon, and Jennifer is somehow the key to it all.

If you are an adult who likes Harry Potter or who is a fan of Terry Pratchett, if you understand and appreciate satire, and if you enjoy a delightfully quirky narrative, head over to the teen section and check out Jasper Fforde!

(Fforde is best known for his literary mystery series starring Thursday Next, which began with his first novel, The Eyre Affair.)

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