2014; 398 pages. Book Three (out of 3) in The Chronicles of Kazam series New Author? : No. Genre : YA; Fantasy. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
All in all, the task that The Mighty Shandar has assigned to Jennifer Strange isn’t too bad. Find something called The Eye of Zoltar. Which is said to be hidden somewhere on Cadir Idris, per the Sky Pirate Wolff telling somebody or other.
Except, no one’s exactly sure what the Eye of Zoltar looks like. Indeed, many say it's just a legend. Plus, The Pirate Wolff hasn’t been seen for years. And as for Cadir Idris, lots of people have entered its domain. None have ever returned.
But lives depend on completing The Mighty Shandar’s task, one of which is Jennifer’s. Just don’t call this a quest. Quests require a license and the cost to get one of those is staggering. So let's just call this a search.
What’s To Like...
The Eye of Zoltar is Book 3 of the Chronicles of Kazam series, aka The Last Dragonslayer series, and starts a mere two weeks after the end of Book 2. There are new lands to traipse through (the Cambrian Empire, Cadir Idris); new people to meet (Addie, Princess Shazza, et. al.) and new beasts to avoid getting eaten by (the Tralfamosaur and the Cloud Leviathan, for two).
As with any Jasper Fforde book, there are several plotlines going on simultaneously. Here, in addition to looking for the Eye of Zoltar, Jennifer has to unspoil a princess, pay ransom for a wizard, and follow the bouncing dragon. Kewlness. But Fforde also addresses more serious themes here, including the senselessness of war, predestination, and (surprisingly) the business of trading commodities and futures.
Some familiar characters get fleshed out, among them King Snodd, Queen Mimosa, and The Mighty Shandar. Chapter 1 gives a backstory for those who aren’t reading the series in order. The book starts out in the usual way – we join Jennifer and company on a Kazam “Mystical Arts” mission.
As always, Jasper Fforde’s incomparable wit blends in smoothly with his superb storytelling. I did feel like the story dragged once or twice, especially when traveling through the wilds of Cambria. But the lags are few and far between. Finally, a quick shout-out to the citing of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto; a fantastic piece of music. You have excellent tastes, Mr. Fforde!
Kewlest New Word...
Billycan (n.) : a lightweight cooking pot which is used on a campfire or a camping stove.
“…considering the loathsome creatures that either squirm, squelch, drift, or creep around this country, a dragon has a terror rating of two. And to put that into context, a Tralfamosaur is a five, and my gran is an eight.”
“Your grandmother must be very scary,” I said.
“She ate a live whippet once,” said Addie, “which is pretty scary, especially during a wedding.”
“What did the bride and groom say?”
“She was the bride.” (loc. 1431)
“What do I do?” asked the princess.
“You keep your head down.”
She looked at me petulantly. “Like hell I will. If we’re going to die, I’m going to go down fighting, even if I’m terrible with a weapon.”
“Fair enough,” I said, and handed her a cutlass. She swished it around.
“Pointy end toward the bad guy, right?”
“Right.” (loc. 3176)
The Eye of Zoltar sells for $9.99 at Amazon. Book One, The Last Dragonslayer, sells for $5.03. Book Two, The Song of the Quarkbeast, goes for $6.15.
“Death cannot be avoided forever, but it can be postponed – it’s very much like doing the dishes.” (loc. 1968)
In several ways, The Eye of Zoltar was shockingly different from the first two books in the series. First, the tone of the story is much “darker”. There’s a lot more violence, and some good characters die, with even good wizards not being exempt. We are a long way from the lighthearted silliness of the bridge-building contest in The Song of the Quarkbeast.
All of the storyline threads are not tied up at the end, which is very unusual for a Fforde tale. And the ending, while not exactly a cliffhanger, does leave the reader in the lurch. There will definitely be a Book 4 in this series, and right now, Wikipedia is saying it will be 2016 before it comes out.
OTOH, the series’ storyline now has some direction, and we have an updated idea of who the major players are going to be, besides our main protagonist, Jennifer. It will be interesting to see whether the tone of Book 4 is similarly “LOTR dark”, or if it returns to “Hobbit-like lightness".
8 Stars. The Eye of Zoltar is a good read, but not quite up to the level of the first two books, which were fantastic.