The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde. ★★★★
The Eye of Zoltar is the third book in Jasper Fforde’s YA series the Chronicles of Kazam. I had only the vaguest memories of what happened in the first two books, but luckily the plot of The Eye of Zoltar was mostly self contained and it wasn’t too much of a problem. Like all of Fforde’s work, The Eye of Zoltar was hilarious.
Jennifer Strange is a sixteen-year old orphan living in the Ununited Kingdoms and indentured to a magical service company named Kazam. The plot begins when The Mighty Shandar announces that Jennifer saving the last two dragons threw a wrench in his contracted agreement to kill off all the dragons. Either she brings him the Eye of Zoltar, a lost and legendary magic gemstone, or he kills the dragons. With no choice but to agree, Jennifer sets off on a search* which heads into the dangerous Cambrian Empire.
*It is not a quest, since all quests must be official and registered with the powerful Questing Federation:
“The Questing Federation were powerful, and would insist on a minimum staffing requirement: at least one strong-and-silent warrior, a sage-like old man, and either a giant or a dwarf–and all of them cost bundles, not just in salary but in hotel bills too. To go on a quest these days you needed serious financial backing.“
The Cambrian Empire is known for its jeopardy tourism – people from other kingdoms come to experience danger in their otherwise safe lives, and Jennifer’s search features a promised 50% fatality rate. Along for the journey is the princess of Snodd, who’s mother wanted her to have an educational experience, and Perkins, a young wizard who Jennifer has just begun dating. Led by an intrepid twelve year old guide, they venture into the depths of the Cambrian Empire.
“I’d been an idiot to think that this journey was anything but a quest. Searches were nice and soft and cuddly and no one needed to be killed. A quest always demanded the death of a trusted friend and one or more ethical dilemmas.”
Fforde’s writing style is light hearted and funny, full of wacky events that are treated quite seriously within the bounds of the novel. One of my favorite parts is how the princess turns out to have a gift for economics, which lead to a wonderful scene where she incorporated herself and used dodgy financial trading to make a fortune. I’ll admit that her character growth from “spoiled princess” to someone who will make a more responsible queen is very sudden, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book at all.
“Troll Wars were like Batman movies: both are repeated at regular intervals, feature expensive hardware, and are broadly predictable. The difference being that during the Troll Wars, humans always lost–and badly.“
Unfortunately, The Eye of Zoltar ended on a investigating cliff hanger, and the next book is not yet released. Despite this, I would certainly recommend The Eye of Zoltar and the Chronicles of Kazam books to anyone looking for a light and enjoyable read.