I’m a big fan of the unique kind of humor that comes out of the UK. From Monty Python to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, I can’t seem to get enough of it. I devoured bestselling author Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next mystery series and have read a couple of his other novels with great delight, so it was a no brainer for me to pick up The Eye of Zoltar. As usual, anything that can go wrong does go wrong in this delightful fantasy adventure, so be prepared to hold onto your hat while you laugh and wonder what nutso thing will happen next.
The Eye of Zoltar is a fantasy novel geared toward Middle School age children; however adults and teens who like Fforde’s work are probably going to steal it when their child or younger sibling isn’t looking. *cue the evil family book absconder laugh* It’s Book #3 in The Chronicles of Kazam which was originally known as the Last Dragonslayer series; however, I haven’t read the first two novels and had no problem reading it as a stand-alone novel. Kids will read it on one level and adults on an entirely different level but both will get a kick out of it. To make it even more fun, we’re hosting a pay-it-forward giveaway for the copy we received – a copy you can pay forward if you can bear to let it go.
A bit of background: The Chronicles of Kazam takes place in the UnUnited Kingdoms, which Fforde describes as being like the United Kingdom, only less united (in a typically gross understatement). It’s been split up into lots of minor and, in their minds only, major fiefdoms ruled by (you guessed it) petty dictators and overly privileged rulers. Magic is an arcane science forbidden in some places and considered highly suspicious in all, yet it’s highly sought after by those in power – nothing new there. This is a land filled with all kinds of weird beasts like the Quarkbeast, Cloud Leviathans, and tons of others.
Our sixteen-year-old heroine, Jennifer Strange, is an orphan, which would usually mean she was consigned to the mines or a life of poverty and servitude. Instead, she’s become the head of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for sorcerers – yes, it shocks her too when she has time to think about it. Maybe the oddest thing about this is that she can’t perform one speck of magic but she’s got a keen sense of right and wrong, and a great head for planning and management. She drives a 1958 VW Bug, the same car she was found in as an infant so you can see why she might be sentimentally attached to it.
Getting called to the Kingdom of Snodd castle is always an iffy thing but Jennifer is none too thrilled when the king and queen decide their spoiled rotten princess needs to be mentored by Jennifer of all people. Of course the princess refuses to even associate with an orphan; however, her mom soon puts an end to that by switching her mind into an orphan’s body – talk about a comeuppance. Unfortunately she still sounds like the ever-petulant ever-entitled princess. WTH is Jennifer going to do with this bratty teen, the new bane of her existence?
“’I’d rather not,’ retorted the princess, glancing at me directly for the first time. ‘I might catch something.’
‘It won’t be humility,’ I replied as I stared at her evenly, figuring that this was probably what they thought the princess needed. If my head were off my shoulders in under ten minutes, that meant I’d been wrong.
The princess went almost purple with rage. ‘I have been impertinenced!’ she said. ‘I insist this orphan be executed!’
‘I’m not sure impertinenced is a word,’ I said.
‘It is if I say it is,’ said the princess, ‘and Daddy, you did say for my sixteenth birthday I could order someone executed. Well, I choose her.’ She pointed at me.
The king looked at Queen Mimosa. ‘I did sort of promise her she could do that, my dear. What sort of lesson is it if I don’t keep my word?’
‘What sort of lesson is it to a child that she can have someone executed?’ retorted the queen, and glared at him.”
To make matters worse, the mysterious Mighty Shandar is ticked off because he had a contract to kill all of the dragons. Because Jennifer saved the last two juveniles and they’re now protected, he not only can’t kill them but the royal personage who contracted with him is demanding a refund – and of course Shandar has already spent all of the money. He’s giving Jennifer only one chance to salvage the situation. She must find the elusive Eye of Zoltar, an item of great arcane power, and bring it to him or he will kill the only two remaining dragons on the planet. Although she can’t let him kill Feldspar and Colin, she has no clue whether the Eye of Zoltar even exists much less how she’ll find and retrieve it. All she knows is that it’s bound to be too hidden and too dangerous for the likes of her if Shandar hasn’t already found and secured it on his own.
“But despite their [Colin’s and Feldspar’s] appearance, they acted like particularly dumb teenage brothers, only with immeasurably higher IQs and better taste in clothes and friends. They had spent the past two months in Washington, DC, reading the contents of the entire Library of Congress so they could better understand the human mind.
‘Welcome home,’ I said. ‘Were you impressed by all that learning?’
‘Good in parts,’ said Colin thoughtfully, ‘but generally inclined to repetition.’
‘That’s it?’ said Wizard Moobin. ‘Our entire intellectual output dismissed in a sentence?’
‘We can discuss human literary output further if you’d like,’ said Feldspar, ‘but we’d only get round to Aristotle before you’d do that thing where you stop working and fall apart. What’s it called again?’
After a brief planning session with the Kazam’s staff wizards and sorcerers, Jennifer, a couple of staff members, and the body-switched princess head off into the volatile Cambrian Empire to find someone who can guide them to the very mysterious Cadyr Idris mountain peak. There they hope to find the ever elusive (and possibly quite non-existent) Pirate Wolff, who is rumored to have been the last person to have the Eye of Zoltar.
Did I mention that the Cambrian Empire is well known as the tourist spot for anyone seeking high-risk adventure? That the Cambrian Empire rates any expedition to Cadyr Idris with a 50% fatality index is just a tad worrisome. What makes it so risky? Will they find the Eye of Zoltar and, if so, what or rather who will they have to sacrifice to do that? Is anything worth that? What about the imperious Snodd princess? Will she survive and what will happen to Jennifer if she doesn’t? For that matter, will even Jennifer survive?
You know by now that I love spunky heroines and The Eye of Zoltar has at least two of them, Jennifer and their tour guide. Didn’t mention the tour guide above, did I? I’m also not going to talk more about the other characters in this roller coaster ride of a fantasy adventure novel because you’d probably do that whole “stop working and fall apart” thing before I finished…
I had a great time reading The Eye of Zoltar. Yes, it really is a Middle School novel; however, Jasper Fforde has included parody that adults will enjoy and I’m sure there’s insider UK humor in addition to the humor the rest of us will enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of daring-do and bravery required for this non-stop adventure, and lots of monsters to battle along the way – of the human and not-ever-remotely human variety. My long-ago Middle School self would have completely devoured it for a number of reasons, not least of all because it feels like you’re sneaking inside the back door to the adult conspiracy – that place no adult ever seems to think you’re old enough to perceive much less become a part of. I also liked The Eye of Zoltar because it contains some hidden good life lessons, but don’t tell any Middle School kids that…
Can’t wait to read it or give it to someone for the holidays?
The Eye of Zoltar was published in the U.S. on October 7, 2014 and in the UK on April 10, 2014, so basically this novel is available no matter where you live in the world. Click on the button/link below (or in the right column for iBooks) to get it from your favorite online bookseller now!
I’d love to get your comments on The Eye of Zoltar, Jasper Fforde or his other work, and/or this review.
Click here to read our review of The Woman Who Died A Lot from the Thursday Next mystery series.
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde!
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 12/13/2014, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
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3) You must be at least 13 years old to enter this giveaway.
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7) That’s it – it’s a very easy giveaway, so have fun and best of luck!