The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Jennifer Strange is The Last Dragonslayer, but just yesterday she was your ordinary foundling girl, helping to run a magical business in which wizards specialize in plumbing, speedy organ delivery, and getting cats down from trees. As you can see, magic is no longer held in as high regard as it used to be. Oh, and they just lost the organ delivery contract.
Magic is waning in the Ununited Kingdoms. It is no longer seen particularly special or, well, magical anymore. On top of that, it seems that once powerful wizards' abilities are starting to weaken. That is, until a soothsayer at Jennifer's business receives a special prophecy. Apparently the last dragon in existence is about to be slain. With that comes the opportunity for political gain, money-making, and something that the wizards call Big Magic.
Soon Jennifer finds herself unwillingly swept up into the frenzy of the event along with her frightening quarkbeast, described as "nine-tenths velociraptor and kitchen blender, and one-tenth labrador." She discovers that she has been prophesized to be the last dragonslayer. The thing is, she does not wish to harm anyone, much less an innocent dragon who has done nothing to deserve death.
Unfortunately, she has a lot of second, thirtieth, and four-hundredth opinions telling what she should do. Demands for endorsement deals are flooding in. The media is watching her like a hawk, twisting her words, and scrutinizing her every move. King Snodd IV has threatened her so he can claim the dragon's land as soon as it is dead. What's an overwhelmed dragonslayer to do?
Jasper Fforde's first book for teens delightfully focuses on the mundanities of a magical world. Such elements were my favorite part of the Harry Potter series, such as when the titular hero had to go to wizard's court at the beginning of the fifth book. Little-known details about the crankiness of wizards or the limitations of spells (they never work on rainy days), or how an enchanted kingdom's media machine operates are this book's specialty and offer a curious perspective on our expectations of fantasy worlds.
I particularly liked when Maltcassion, the soon to be ex-dragon, reprimands Jennifer and the human race for doting on all of the adorable mammals that are endangered—pandas and seal cubs, for example—while ignoring the other animal classes.
"No one much cares about the reptiles, bugs, or fishes, unless, of course, they look nice. Seems a pretty crummy method of selecting species for survival, don't you think? If you want to redress your overtly mammal-supremacist attitudes, I should ban the words cuddly, cute, and fluffy, for a start."
Fforde is no stranger to skewed perspectives. His Nursery Crime series for adults tackles the seedy underbelly of Mother Goose characters with humor and panache. If you like this title, I would also recommend the funny, feminist chapter book Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, where Princess Cimorene gets fed up with all of those idiot princes trying to save her.
Hopefully we will get the chance to read Fforde's follow-up to this book, Song of the Quarkbeast, which is already published in Britain. I certainly cannot wait!