The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde
Dragonslayer # 2
Hodder & Stoughton, 290 pages
As the background Wizidrical Power slowly builds after the Big Magic, King Snodd IV of Hereford realises the man who controls Magic controls almost anything.
But one person stands between him and his plans for power and riches: Jennifer Strange, sixteen-year-old acting manager of Kazam.
It may involve a trip on a magic carpet at the speed of sound to the Troll Wall, it may involve a second Quarkbeast sniffing around town. It might also involve the mysterious Transient Moose, and a powerless sorceress named Once Magnificent Boo. But one thing is certain: Jennifer Strange and her faithful assistant Tiger Prawns will not relinquish the noble powers of magic to big business and commerce without a fight.
The Last Dragonslayer was one of my favorite reads in 2011, and I’m not just saying that because Jasper Fforde is my favorite author. I absolutely loved Jasper Fforde’s YA debut, and I thought it was a hilarious and smart read. Silly me, though, that I didn’t know there was going to be a sequel to this. It totally took me by surprise, but I’m not complaining. A new Jasper Fforde? Of course I want that!
Jennifer Strange, the last dragonslayer in the Ununited Kingdom, is back, but she’s no longer the dragonslayer. She’s back to being the manager of Kazam, the magical placement industry where their sorcerers are hired to do various tasks in the kingdom for some moolah. The story opens with Jennifer, together with her apprentice Tiger Prawns, and the Kazam sorcerers, trying to find a missing ring for a whole wad of moolah. Jennifer thought this was good practice for their bridge building job due for the weekend, which could really put Kazam in the map. The job was a success, but it didn’t mean the bridge building gig was supposed to go smoothly. A magic license test later, Jennifer finds herself facing the possibility of Kazam being taken over by iMagic, their rival, arrested sorcerers, sorcerers turned to stone, and a prediction that the Great Zambini would return. For a while. And a Quarkbeast on the loose.
Okay, I just reread the previous paragraph and I realized that it doesn’t make any sense. Until you read this book, anyway. Fforde books tend to be that way — you’re better off understanding micrometers faster than in a Fforde book, but a Fforde book is just more interesting! There’s the usual fun chaos and hilarity in The Song of the Quarkbeast that is also present in all Jasper Fforde books. It takes a while to immerse oneself in any Fforde world, but it was kind of easy to get back into this, perhaps because the previous book was still fresh in my mind. Sort of. But it was fun seeing the familiar characters that I liked in the first book, as well as new characters. We see more of how magic works in the world. Reading only specific passages may sound absolutely absurd, but trust me, once you’re inside, it all just makes sense. Case in point (not spoilery, don’t worry):
Do I have to go down a well upside down while being sarcastic with a shoe tied around my neck? (p.39)
The scene: Tiger Prawns has to go down the well to retrieve the missing ring, and he carries a ball that lights up when he’s being sarcastic and he has a toddler’s shoe around his neck as a communication device so he can talk to the ones outside of the well. Did that make sense now? I hope so.
My favorite part in this book? The return of the Quarkbeasts! The Quarkbeast is my favorite character in the previous book, and since this is basically a book about those them, we find out more about it in this book. Who knew there were Quarkbeast flavors? (Up, Down, Charm, Strange, Top, Bottom) And that they’re still very scary and yet they’re friendly (well, it seems like it in the book). Here’s a passage about how important Quarkbeasts are:
“There can only be thirty six completely unique yet identical Quarkbeasts, and soon as the combinations are fulfilled, they will come together and merge into a single Quota of fully Quorumed Quarkbeasts.”
“What will happen then?”
“Something wonderful. All the great questions of the world will be answered…a Quarkbeast is more than an animal, it’s an oracle to assist mankind’s illusive search for meaning, truth and fulfillment.” (p. 172-173)
I know. It doesn’t make sense. But trust me, it’s hilarious.
However. As fun and enjoyable The Song of the Quarkbeast was, it didn’t feel as engaging as the first book was. Yes, there’s the usual fun, usual chaos and all the crazy things that sprung from the endless imagination of Jasper Fforde…but it just felt like there could have been more. I never had a clear picture of the story up until I was 2/3 in. Which may have been done on purpose, now that I think of it. Which is still good, okay, but I think it just pales a bit in comparison to The Last Dragonslayer.
Nevertheless, I still liked this. And of course I’m looking forward to the third book coming out this year, The Return of the Shandar. I still stand by what I said in my review for the previous book: if you’ve always thought of trying a Fforde but not sure where to start, or you feel intimidated with his adult books, then his Jennifer Strange books are a good ones to get your feet wet.
Oh, and after reading this book, I want my own Transient Moose.
My copy: paperback from Fully Booked