Continuing along through Once Upon a Time reads that I only have a bit to say about 🙂 I have another two-for-one post today…
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Set in an alternate England (made up of hundreds of fractured Un-united Kingdoms), this is a world where magic exists but is on the wane. Jennifer Strange, foundling child, fell into a management role of Kazam, last great magic house, and is struggling to keep the bills paid, the lights on and the magical elevator riding up and down. In a changing world, magicians have to take on assignments like rewiring a house and delivering pizza by magic carpet. When all the local seers foretell the death of the last dragon for next Sunday at noon, the fortunes of Jennifer, Kazam, the country and the existence of magic itself all could be changed.
I’ve got troubles with Fforde. I love his ideas, which makes me want to love his books—and yet I don’t. To be fair, the only other book I read by him was The Eyre Affair (someone gains the power to enter books and change them, changing the content in every copy, and he’s gunning for Jane Eyre—possibly the best idea ever) but it was a similar experience both times. I mean, pizza delivery by magic carpet! Cool idea! Plus Jennifer is perfectly likable, the plot is effective if a little slow-moving, and the supporting characters are zany and interesting and yet, something just didn’t work for me.
I think it may be that Fforde is too clever. I love the clever ideas, but when it comes down to it, I spend the book sitting back and watching him be clever. And don’t get me wrong, he’s legitimately witty—but that’s still a very distant way to be reading a book, and I just can’t quite love a book I read from that far away.
Buy it here: The Last Dragonslayer
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
And speaking of distant and clever reads, this one was both but it worked better for me. A longish short story with gorgeous illustrations, a sleeping sickness is spreading through the kingdom, starting at a thorn-covered castle but reaching out towards the borders and the country beyond. Several dwarfs bring the news to their friend the Queen, who has experience with enchanted sleeps, and decides to postpone her wedding to go investigate.
This is a clever mix of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, with a very strong and capable Snow White, and a very clever twist on Sleeping Beauty by the end. This has much the style of the original fairy tales, with no names and little dialogue and so it’s all rather distant—but it was good that way, reminiscent of those original fairy tales but with plenty of twist to keep it interesting. And maybe it was all right to be distant because it was a brief read, and I expect something different than I do from a novel.
It also helps that the illustrations are gorgeous, black and white but intricate and elaborate…although Chris Riddell is a little too fond of skulls. One unnecessary skull-patterned blanket aside, the illustrations added a lot to the story. Recommended if you like classic fairy tales, but want something innovative, especially involving a heroine who definitely won’t just sleep quietly and wait for a rescuer.
Buy it here: The Sleeper and the Spindle