In a twisted alternate world, the Dragonlands are situated between the Kingdom of Hereford and the Duchy of Brecon, in the west of a balnkanized version of England and Wales known as the Ununited Kingdoms. It’s a world where magic is slowly dying out, its practitioners reduced to delivering pizzas on flying carpets and rewiring houses by spell. A world where knights in shining armor are TV celebrities, where foundlings are placed in indentured servitude, and where widespread premonitions of the death of the last dragon triggers mass hysteria. Suddenly thousands of people are camped outside the magical force-field that contains the Dragonlands, waiting to stake their claim on the pristine wilderness and develop it for, say, the Consolidated Useful Stuff LLC.
In the middle of it all is a remarkable young woman—barely more than a girl, really—named Jennifer Strange. That’s not her real name. She doesn’t know her real name, being a foundling and probably an orphan from the Fourth Troll War. She manages Kazam, a service that matches magical talent to clients’ needs. A high-rise residential block full of tetchy wizards comes with the deal. Jennifer is really only an apprentice, but her boss has gone missing and no one else wants the job. Soon enough she has an apprentice of her own—another plucky foundling with the unlikely name of Tiger Prawns. A phantom moose, a razor-fanged Quarkbeast, and an elderly Volkswagen round out the family circle. It’s not much of a life, but it’s hers. How rotten of an event called Dragondeath to mess it all up.
With the demise of Maltcassion, the last surviving dragon in Britain, scheduled for high noon on Sunday, Jennifer doesn’t have much time to work out what is to be done. Whatever it is, she will be the one to do it. For, on top of everything else, Jennifer has been chosen as the Last Dragonslayer. It’s a side-job with some perks, such as a house, a heavily armored Rolls Royce, a personal assistant, and a sword. But with it comes responsibility to act in accord with the centuries-old Dragonpact. That’s what worries Jennifer. What with human greed turning Dragondeath into a land rush, and King Snodd IV threatening to have Jennifer outlawed (or worse) if she doesn’t support his plans to invade neighboring Brecon, and everybody wanting to cash in on the Dragonslayer brand, Jennifer doesn’t know what’s the right thing to do. But when evidence turns up that Maltcassion has crossed the line and deserves to be put down, Jennifer is pretty sure the dragon is being framed.
Will she be able to do the right thing? Can she slay the dragon and save magic too? Or does she have to do one to ensure the other? Whatever happens will be full of danger and suspense, offbeat humor and quirky magic, alternate-history weirdness and cultural satire. This book is an amazing gift to young adult readers from the author whose grown-up titles include the Thursday Next series, the Nursery Crime novels, and the devastatingly original Shades of Grey. Tying it all up in a pretty ribbon is the delightful news that this is the first book of (at least) a trilogy. Book 2, The Song of the Quarkbeast, has already been published. Book 3, The Eye of Zoltar, is due to hatch in October 2014.