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Literature / The Last Dragonslayer

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That's her on the hilltop.

Thus it was that I, Jennifer Strange, sixteen years next month and loyal subject of King Snodd IV in the Kingdom of Hereford, took on the rights and responsibilities of the last Dragonslayer.

Imagine your standard fantasy setting, some place like Middle-earth. You have your green, pastoral fields, your villages, your sheep, your kings and knights, and your medley of mythical creatures, including, naturally, dragons. Now, imagine that this place didn't stay frozen in medieval stasis, and instead continued to change through the years, and that it now exists at a point in time closer to modern age—the year 2007, to be specific.

The Last Dragonslayer, the first young adult fantasy novel by Jasper Fforde, is set herein. It was published in 2010. Our protagonist is Jennifer Strange, a fifteen year-old indentured servant and acting manager of Kazam, an employment agency for soothsayers and sorcerers in a world where the magic is gradually ebbing away and succumbing to the advent of technology, while the manager Mr. Zambini is away for undisclosed reasons.


One day, a prophecy gets out that she is destined to kill the last surviving dragon, Maltcassion, allowing Consolidated Useful Stuff to take over the dragon's vast domain and exploit it for financial gain. But Jennifer doesn't want to be the Last Dragonslayer; in fact, she takes a moral stand against it. The book chronicles her adventures as she confronts the problem-and, naturally, Maltcassion himself.

It was followed with The Song of a Quarkbeast and The Eye of Zoltar. A fourth novel entitled Strange and the Wizard is forthcoming.

It was adapted for television by Sky1, and broadcast on Christmas Day 2016.


The Last Dragonslayer Contains Examples Of:

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    Tropes Present Throughout the Series 

  • Aerith and Bob: "My name is Feldspar Axiom Firebreath IV, and this is Colin."
  • Balkanize Me: Exaggerated: the Ununited Kingdom is comprised of over two dozen separate political entities note .
  • Blind Seer: Mother Zenobia is blind, and she occasionally has visions of both present and future events. She wasn't surprised when Jennifer dropped by unannounced because she'd had a vision that Jennifer's orange car would appear.
  • Cast from Calories: On an industrial scale! Much of the Ununited Kingdom is powered by marzipan, which in the world of "The Last Dragonslayer" is dug out of the ground the way coal is in the real world. After mining, the marzipan is refined into "Almondoleum" in industrial plants.
  • Cool Car: Instead of a horse, the current Dragonslayer now has a Slayermobile, a Rolls Royce armored car with sirens, emergency vehicle lights, weapon racks for sword and lance, and the whole studded all over with copper spikes to make it unpalatable to dragons. The Slayermobile gets most of it's screentime in "The Last Dragonslayer." As of "The Song of the Quarkbeast," it's parked in the garage beneath Kazam.
  • Dad the Veteran: Both Downplayed and taken to the Logical Extreme — there's a massive amount of orphans in the Ununited Kingdoms because of all the parents that die in the Troll Wars. So many orphans that entire segments of the economy are propped up on subsidized labor provided by indentured orphan servants. The orphans themselves don't spend overmuch time thinking about their deceased parents.
    • Jennifer was left in an orange Volkswagen Beetle outside the orphanage with a note describing that her parents had died in the Troll Wars.
    • Tiger knows one of his parents probably served in the Troll Wars because he was left at the orphanage alongside a Fourth Troll Wars campaign medal with a Valour Clasp. Mother Zenobia has told Jennifer the rest of the details, and expects Jennifer to tell Tiger when he asks for the full story. Tiger's parents were a husband-and-wife engineering team on a landship that vanished during the war. Horrifyingly, Tiger would have been lost (and likely eaten by trolls) with his parents if the childcare facilities had not been removed from the landships in order to make room for extra munitions. Instead, he ended up an orphan in the care of the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster.
  • Egopolis: Downplayed in that the current King Snodd is the 4th of his name to rule since the dynasty began in 1867, so he's had several generations of monarchs behind him who have named things after themselves. He lives in Snodd Castle, and most streets in his capital are called "Snodd Boulevard" or "Snodd Avenue" or somesuch. But the current monarch continues the trend of naming things after himself: he franchises a chain of cheap Snoddco's Superstores, owns Snodd Heavy Industries, and he suggests combining iMagic and Kazam into a single entity called "Snodd Magic PLC."
  • Extreme Omnivore: The Quarkbeast appears to be able to eat anything except a half-inch of titanium. Its diet consists mainly of meat and metal — two cans of dog food (still in the can) are its preferred breakfast. Jennifer's Quarkbeast is particularly fond of metals like chrome, zinc, and pewter.
  • Fantastic Drug: Zigzagged and overlaps with I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin! and G-Rated Drug. "Marzipan addiction" is treated similarly to alcoholism or the usage of narcotics. But Marzipan is also a natural resource dug out of the ground (like coal or natural gasses) and used to power much of the Ununited Kingdom after it's been refined into Almondoleum.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: Magical power is measured in "shandars," so-called after the famous wizard Shandar. Devices called "Shandarmeters" can measure the amount of shandars certain acts of magic take to cast, and devices called "shandargraphs" can measure background levels and usage of magical powers in the local area. All children have their power measured to test for magical aptitude, with the national average at about 150 shandars. Protagonist Jennifer rated at 159.3 shandars. It takes about 200 shandars to make a toad burp, and 1000 shandars to boil an egg.
  • Fictional Currency: Units of currency used in the Ununited Kingdom include the spondoolip, dollop, acker, plotnik, half-moolah, moolah, and golden moolarine. King Snodd also issues "coin vouchers" to his subjects, which are redeemable only at Snoddco's substandard superstores.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Jennifer and Tiger are both foundlings who were raised in an Orphanage of Fear, but they treat the experience as something that made them tougher and more mature than their civilian peers.
  • Informed Ability: Jennifer is 16, but apart from a minor romantic subplot she could as well be 30 or 50.
  • Magic Carpet: Kazam has two carpeteers on staff: Prince Omar Smith Arkwright Ben Nasil (second in line to the Duchy of Portland) and Owen of Rhayder. They've been relegated to non-passenger work like delivering pizzas and transporting live organs for donation after a terrible accident 30-some years ago, when a carpeteer named Brother Velobius and his two passengers died when the Turkmen Mk18-C Bukhara carpet they were flying on broke up in midair.
  • The Magic Goes Away/The Magic Comes Back: The magic level was once much higher but it's bottomed out and is slowly returning.
  • Magitek: Magical parallels for microwave ovens, radar, the phone system and medical scanners are all mentioned. Unfortunately none of these work any more due to the low mana level.
  • Metal Muncher: Quark Beasts are able to eat anything except a solid half-inch of titanium, and their preferred diet consists mainly of meat and metal. Jennifer's Quark Beast favors the tastes of chrome, zinc, and pewter.
  • Only Sane Employee: Jennifer, the 15-year-old (16 as of "The Song of the Quarkbeast") indentured servant who runs Kazam. Most of the employees of the agency are old, curmudgeonly, slightly batty from too much magic, or all of the above: without a manager, they'd hardly be able to tie their shoes in the morning, much less earn a living. As the acting manager, Jennifer is in charge of answering the phones at the agency, booking jobs, renewing contracts, managing personnel, chauffeuring the talent to their jobs, and filling out all the paperwork and forms that keeps her employees from literally being burned at the stake. Tiger is in training to become her replacement.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Played for Laughs - the convent where Jennifer and Tiger were raised, the Convent of the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster, is housed in a dreary, medieval castle next to a firing range/ military installation where the Armed Forces of Hereford routinely shoot live munitions across the border into the Duchy of Brecon. The foundlings live a life of deprivation, eating gruel that is somehow thinner than water and lacking basic necessities like bedding and changes of clothing. The children have no rights to citizenship, and once the reach the age of 12 or so they're rented out as indentured servants until they turn 18. It sounds horrific, but Jennifer and Tiger both treat it as a Hilariously Abusive Childhood that made them tough and resourceful.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons here are intelligent, erudite creatures with an unfortunate habit of torching villages and eating people. They also have quasi-magical gems in their foreheads.
  • Parental Abandonment: There are massive quantities of "foundlings" left at orphanages around the Ununited Kingdom, many of them orphans of the Troll Wars. These foundlings don't have full citizenship rights, are often sold on contract as indentured servants to businesses (it's mentioned that ConStuff owns a chain of islands off east Trollvania where they use cheap foundling labor to produce cheap goods cheaper than anyone else in the cheap goods market). Jennifer was left at the doorstep of the Convent of the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster in an orange Volkswagen, and Tiger was left in a basket with a war medal pinned to the side.
  • Pokémon Speak: All Quarkbeast "dialogue" is rendered as "Quark!"
  • Power Levels: A wizard's power of reflected by their status and accolade, both of which can change if/when the magic user's powers wax or wane. Statuses are pretty straightforward: at the lowest level is Spellmanager, followed by Sorcerer, Master Sorcerer, Grand Master Sorcerer, and Super Grand Master Sorcerer. There's no official governing body that issues statuses or accolades to the wizards of the Ununited Kingdom and beyond. The very idea of having a governing body is "wholly ridiculous once you get to know how scatty they can be," but practitioners of the magical arts are honorbound to a fault — so titles that reflect their relative levels of wizidrical power and reliability are all self-conferred. These include, in no particular order, "Lady", "Wizard", "Venerable", "Amazing", "Astonishing", "Remarkable", "Incredible", "Magnificent", "Mighty", "All-Powerful", and "Pointless".
    "An accolade isn't simply based on performance, but on reliability. Wizard Moobin isn't the most powerful in the building, but he's the most consistent. And to complicate matters further, a status is different to an accolade. Two wizards might both be status Spellmanager but if one has turned a goat into a moped and the other hasn't, then they get to call themselves 'Wizard.'"
  • Schizo Tech: It seems that nearly everything runs on magic, from mobile phone networks to GPS to medical scanners, and all those technologies had to be "turned off" as magic started to disappear. Landlines are purely mechanical though, and cars run on purified marzipan. But even then, unexpected items like yo-yos, bicycles, and north-pointing compasses are said to be run on spell code so ancient that no-one has ever been able to figure out how to "turn them off."
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • In "The Last Dragonslayer," Tiger tells Jennifer that he'd been left at the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster's doorstep in a basket (with a war medal and a train ticket left alongside him). In "The Song of the Quarkbeast," he says he was left at the convent in a red rolling suitcase.
    • The number of foundlings at the convent seems to fluctuate. In "The Last Dragonslayer," Jennifer says that Mother Zenobia "had hundreds of foundlings ready to take up servitude" - and that number would only have included those of working age, presumably older than 10 or 12. In "The Song of the Quarkbeast," Jennifer mentions that she had to fight "all forty" other girls at the convent to use the single handkerchief, while in "The Eye of Zoltar" she mentions sleeping in a dormitory with "sixty other girls". Later she says that Tiger still hasn't acclimated to having his own room after spending his whole life sleeping in a dormitory with "eighty other boys."
    • In Book 1, it's mentioned that when Shandar built his palace he included a zoo with magically-created animals no one had ever seen before, and this is how the Quarkbeast came to be. Mother Zenobia helpfully gives the date of June 1591 for the creation of the castle, zoo, and Quarkbeasts. In Book 2, Jennifer states that the Mighty Shandar created Quarkbeasts to win a bet in 1783.
    • In the first two books, the highly addictive Fantastic Drug/ national power source marzipan is said to be mined out of the ground (much like petroleum or coal) before being refined into almondoleum. In "The Eye of Zoltar," Jennifer drives through a grove of almond trees in the Cambrian Empire which are said to be the source of marzoleum.
      "The fields we drove past contained cultivated almond tree groves, from which refined marzoleum was derived; the syrupy oil was used for fondant icing, sunblock, window putty, aviation spirit, and pretty much anythng in between.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Spells are written in lines of code, much the same way computer programs are. "RUNIX" is one such spell language, a shout-out to Unix. Another spell lanuage is "ARAMAIC."
    • "Industrial Magic", Kazam's competing agency, is probably a shout-out to "Industrial Lighting & Magic", the visual effects company founded by George Lucas in 1975. In "The Song of the Quarkbeast", they change their name to iMagic.
  • Tank Goodness: Cranked Up to Eleven with King Snodd IV's "landships": five story-high, diesel-powered siege engines on treads. Averted in that for all their destructive capability, they're not terribly effective.
  • Troll War: The Ununited Kingdom is in a constant state of war with the Trolls of Trollvania. This is believed to be why Jennifer and Tiger are foundlings.
  • Theme Twin Naming: David and Dennis Price, who are on record as the "least identical twins," also go by the names Half and Full Price. David is "tall and thin and would sway in a high wind", while Dennis is "short and squat like a giant pink pumpkin."
  • Traveling Landmass: The Isle of Wight has two massive rudders and engines that propel it through the Atlantic Ocean. Every winter it sails down between the Canary Islands and the Azores to avoid the chill.
  • Unstuck in Time: The Great Zambini either bungled a disappearing-and-reappearing spell while performing at a child's birthday party, or was sabotaged by the Wizard Shandar. Either way, he's "rattling around the Now like a Ping-Pong ball," reappearing in random locations across the Ununited Kingdom for anywhere from a couple seconds to a couple minutes. Jennifer and the rest of the Kazam employees are keen to get him back

    Tropes in "The Last Dragonslayer" 

  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Maltcassion
  • Broken Pedestal: Jennifer has a bit of an embarrassing crush on Sir Matt Grifflon, a minor noble and Hereford's very own rock star/ heartthrob. The first time she encounters him in person, he's been sent to the Dragonstation by the king to murder her and take over her job as the Dragonslayer. Jennifer's crush evaporates after that encounter.
  • The Chosen One: Jennifer, at least according to the prophecy.
  • Containment Field: The Dragonlands are surrounded by a magical barrier that only the Dragonslayer or the Dragonslayer's apprentice may pass through - anyone else who tries is instantly vaporized. But what no living human knows is that the force field works both ways - humans can't get in, and dragons can't get out. This was part of Shandar's plan to eliminate the dragons once and for all. With the dragons imprisoned in separate territories with no way to meet or mingle, there was no way for them to reproduce naturally. And without dragons leaving the Dragonlands to commit acts that would break the Dragonpact, there would be no reason for the Dragonslayer to slay any dragons (which turns one dragon into two). Once the last dragon died of old age, there would be no more.
  • Cool Sword: Exhorbitus, the sword of the Dragonslayers. It's an Absurdly Sharp Blade that can cut through boulders, brick walls, and carbide steel as if they were wet paper. It's got a giant ruby "the size of an orange" embedded in the pommel. And anyone who isn't the Dragonslayer is vaporized if they try to touch it. (And apparently, it can only be sharpened with a banana.)
  • Corporate-Sponsored Superhero: Not a superhero per se, but a Corporate Sponsored Dragonslayer. When Jennifer takes up the mantle of Dragonslayer several companies start a bidding war to get her to endorse their product, with Yummy Flakes cereal and Fizzi-Pop soda leading the charge. In order to save the Dragonstation from being repossessed by King Snodd (and to keep herself out of debtor's prison after assuming responsibility for the back-charged property tax, rent, gas, water, and electricity), Jennifer accepts a 100,000 moolah contract with Fizzi-Pop.
    An hour later I was heading off to the Dragonlands again, the Rolls-Royce bedecked with Fizzi-Pop stickers. Painted on the door was a big sign:
Personally sponsored by
Fizzi-Pop, Inc.
The Drink of Champions
  • Deadly Force Field: Anyone, bar the Dragonslayer or the Dragonslayer's apprentice, who attempts to cross into the Dragonlands will find themselves vaporized by the barrier that surrounds it. The barrier is actually a Containment Field. Dragons don't just stay in the Dragonlands for fear of violating the Dragonpact: dragons cannot get out of their individual parcels of land, and humans can't get in.
  • Dog Dies at the End: Gordon shoots Jennifer's loyal Quarkbeast companion when it leaps to defend her.
  • Gem Tissue: Dragons have a large gem in their forehead that glows slightly. In the olden days, knights would take the gem as a trophy when they killed the dragon.
  • Hydra Problem: "Slaying" a dragon leads to the one dragon magically dividing into two, both of which retain something of the memories and personality of their "parent." The only way to truly kill of a dragon is to sequester it until it dies of old age.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: Invoked by King Snodd, in an effort to get rid of Jennifer. Once she assumes the mantle of Dragonslayer and responsibility for the Dragonstation, King Snodd immediately dumps a debt of nearly 100,000 moolah from back-charged property tax, rent, gas, water, and electricity in her lap. If she doesn't pay up in a few hours, she faces some serious jail time. Even if Jennifer wanted to dispute the legality of the debt, she'd be tied up in court for weeks - long past the last dragon's predicted demise.
  • Mega-Corp: Consolidated Useful Stuff, or ConStuff, and their many subsidiaries.
  • The Mole: Gordon van Gordon. He was part of a long-running plot by ConStuff to put an agent of theirs in place as a Dragonslayer's apprentice, in order to claim the Dragonlands before the barrier could come down. The particular conspiracy had been in play for over 60 years before they had a chance to embed their operative.
  • Named Weapon: Exhorbitus, sword of the Dragonslayers.
    "Why is it called Exhorbitus?"
    "Probably because it was very expensive."
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: Only the Dragonslayer or their apprentice can wield the sword Exhorbitus and the lance of the Dragonslayers. Anyone who isn't the Dragonslayer disappears in a puff of smoke.
  • Overly Long Name/Repetitive Name: Jennifer's assistant Dragonslayer is Gordon van Gordon Gordonson ap Gordon-Gordon of Gordon.
  • The Pardon: Jennifer's "betrayal of the crown" is eventually "reluctantly" pardoned by King Snodd, after she spends a week or two in jail.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Being the subject of a massive manhunt after "disappearing" into Kazam, Jennifer can't show her face in public. To sneak out of Kazam and back into the Dragonstation, Tiger comes up with the idea that she should disguise herself as a Troll War Widow with a wig, an old dress, and a cardboard sign begging for coins. The Quark Beast is disguised as her baby with a bonnet and a baby pram to sneak him past some of King Snodd's guards. The guards are complete idiots though, so it works perfectly.
  • Rapid Aging: The fate of Dragonslayer Brian Spalding, after he appoints Jennifer his successor in the field of Dragon Slaying. He was over 150 years old, and only "Old Magic" kept him from passing away until he could pass the torch. Once his job is complete, he ages decades in the span of a minute and dwindles away to "a fine smattering of gray powder."
  • Something for Everyone: The Pollyanna Stone is a magical artifact that morphs into whatever the holder expects or hopes to see. When given to Jennifer unprompted, she sees a newspaper declaring that she won't be forced to kill the dragon. With a little bit of trickery, Jennifer uses the stone to fool the royal guards into believing that they're holding her Troll War Widow identification papers.
    Just then Lady Mawgon walked into the kitchens and handed me a copy of the Daily Mollusc. The front page had banner headlines explaining how everything was fine after all, so it was no longer necessary for me to slay Maltcassion. It added that the Duke of Brecon and King Snodd has kissed and made up, the Quarkbeast was no longer an illegal animal, the sale of marzipan was to be banned, and all foundlings everywhere were to be reunited with their parents.
    "This is all far too good to be true," I muttered, and as soon as I had, the enchantment crumbled. I was no longer reading a newspaper but simply staring at a colorless gray pebble.
    "What you have in your hand is a Pollyanna Stone," Lady Mawgon told me. "Whoever holds the pebble will see what they expect or hope to see. It might be of use if you are stopped on the way."
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Jennifer encounters two magically recorded messages from the Mighty Shandar. Both times, the recording mentions that it's a recording just as she begins to wonder if it's a recording.
    'You must be a Dragonslayer or their apprentice,' said a warm voice that sounded like how I hoped my father would speak, 'For only they may pass the marker stones.'
    'I am, sir,' I muttered, unsure of how to address the most powerful wizard the world had ever know.
    'I expect you have many questions,' continued the Mighty Shandar.
    'Well, yes, I do," I replied, looking up, "in particular, how the whole Dragon/ magic deal—'
    '—questions that I cannot hope to answer.'
    I got to my feet. 'How's that?' I asked, but the Wizard ignored me.
    'This is a recording, by the way.' answered Shandar, who now that I looked more closely seemed almost translucent, like a spectre. The image flickered and rocked as he spoke, and I was surprised to find that a sorcery recording is not a lot better than a poor video recording.
  • Think Nothing of It: Lady Mawgon gifts Jennifer and Tiger a Pollyanna Stone to aid them in their quest to get back to the Dragonstation, but she threatens to make Jennifer's life hell if anyone finds out that Mawgon has been anything but horrid to the foundlings.
    "If you tell anyone I've been nice to you," she said, narrowing her eyes, "I will make it my solemn duty to make both your lives as unbearable as possible. And don't think I'm not going to have you both replaced on Monday, for I will."
  • Would Hurt a Child: Would hurt a teen in this case, as Jennifer is fifteen, but the death of the last dragon brings out the nasty side of several characters:
    • Sir Matt Grifflon was willing to kill Jennifer in order to take her position as the Dragonslayer.
    • Gordon van Gordon was also willing to shoot Jennifer if she tried to interfere with ConStuff's plot to stake their claim on most of the territory in the Dragonlands before the last dragon was slain.

    Tropes in "The Song of the Quarkbeast" 

  • All Trolls Are Different: Just to the North of the first Troll Wall, Jennifer encounters a pair of trolls while searching for The Great Zambini. These trolls are tall, muscular, covered in intricate tattoos, wield massive clubs, and speak very good English. They're also violently opposed to humans and more than happy to kill any they see on sight because the trolls view humans as a pest akin to rodents or locusts, with just enough intelligence to deplete natural resources and live in an unsustainable style that will eventually destroy the environment. One troll mentions that a friend keeps some humans as pets.
  • Aside Comment: When Jennifer devises a plan to get Perkins to infiltrate iMagic by pretending to double-cross Kazam, she gives him a black eye in order to sell the ruse. When she does, she addresses the audience:
    Reader, I punched him Right in the eye, a real corker — a punch like I'd never punched anyone, expect that time back at the orphanage when Tamara Glickstein was bullying the smaller kids.
  • Bizarre Human Biology: When a wild Quarkbeast uses a surge of wizidrical energy to escape the poacher Lord Bloch-Draine, Jennifer gets caught up in the outrush of random spelling and ends up "mirrored". At first she thinks her clothes have been spelled backwards (as Lord Bloch-Draine's had been spelled inside-out), but soon she realizes that a small mole has moved to the opposite side of her body... and that she has suddenly become right-handed. This would mean all her internal organs had flipped around as well, giving her a magically-induced case of Situs inversus.
  • Court Mage: Conrad Blix gets himself appointed Court Mystician by King Snodd IV. It's part of his plan to put himself on the throne — the court mystician is automatically 8th in line to rule.
  • Dog Dies at the End: Inverted from the first book. Quarkbeasts reproduce by creating mirror images of themselves when they have the opportunity to siphon off massive quantities of Shandars (in the range of 1.2 gigashandars) from wizards performing powerful magic. When the mirror image of Jennifer's Quarkbeast siphons energy from the bridge building contest, it replicates Jennifer's original Quarkbeast down to the markings and skewed scales. Jennifer's revived Quarkbeasts even recognizes her and Tiger, and resumes it's position as her terrifying guard dog/ beloved housepet.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: The Great Zambini, the Amazing Conrad Blix, and Miss Boolean Champernowne Waseed Mitford Smith (aka the Once Magnificent Boo) all competed on the Ununited Kingdom's 1974 Olympic Sorcery team. Blix and Zambini were also rivals for Boo's hand in marriage. She eventually married Conrad Blix in secret, but the two grew apart after her kidnapping.
  • Explosive Overclocking: In order to get Jennifer to Troll Wall (280 miles away from Herefore, with 32 minutes to get there) in time to catch the Great Zambini during his next predicted appearance, carpeteers Prince Nasil & Owen of Rhayder push their flying carpets to go supersonic. That means flying a Turkish rug held together by magic and willpower at a speed of seven hundred and sixty miles per hour. They have the forethought to bring parachutes with them, and Owen ends up using one when his carpet disintegrates in midair. Jennifer and Prince Nasil make it all the way to the wall, but Prince Nasil's carpet is destroyed in the process — they have to take the train back down to Hereford.
  • Fingore: When Boolean Smith was captured by anti-magic extremists, they cut off her index fingers. This rendered her unable to perform magic, as sorcerers require their index fingers to focus wizidrical energy. This trope gets even more horrifying when it's revealed that her husband Conrad Blix was the one who arranged for her to be kidnapped and mutilated. He had sought out the precognitive abilities of a famous soothsayer to divine their future together. He learned that Boo would be "greater and more powerful than he, and ultimately the agent of his downfall." Blix couldn't stand the idea that his wife would outshine him, so he had her crippled.
  • Hot Witch: Samantha Flynt is a dimwitted trainee wizard at iMagic and quite possibly the most attractive magic practitioner in the Ununited Kingdom. She's failed the magic licensing exam multiple times, but King Snodd's useless brother was willing to grant her a license anyways because she's "so utterly captivating" (a fact that Conrad Blix tried to exploit by having Samantha perform the test in a swimsuit).
  • iProduct: Discussed and Lampshaded — Industrial Magic, Kazam's competing agency mentioned in the last book, has undergone a makeover and dubbed itself "iMagic":
    "What's with the iMagic name change?" I said.
    "Industrial Magic was a bit of a mouthful," Blix explained. "Besides, putting i in front of anything makes it more hip and current."
  • Rich Language, Poor Language: The upper class speak in such an affected manner that "High British" is considered a dialect distinct from "Common British."
  • Secret Relationship: Conrad Blix and Boolean Smith secretly married after they competed on the Ununited Kingdom's Olympic Sorcery team in 1974. They became estranged after Boo was kidnapped and mutilated by anti-magic extremists (an event orchestrated by Blix), but it appears they never bothered to get a divorce.
  • Show Within a Show: Tiger takes The Mysterious X to see a showing of Rupert the Foundling Conquers the Universe.
  • Taken for Granite: Lots of people getting statue-d in "The Song of the Quarkbeast":
    • While trying to hack the Dibble Coils (a spell that can store ambient wizidrical energy for later use, much like a giant magic battery), Lady Mawgon gets petrified by one of the counterspells that protects the coils' spellcode from being meddled with. When Monty Vanguard tries to find the lines of spell that petrified Lady Mawgon, he gets alabaster-ed too.
      I'd never seen anyone turned to stone before, and after the initial shock wore off, I ventured closer. Every single pore of Lady Mawgon's skin, every wrinkle, every eyelash, was perfectly rendered in the finest alabaster. It felt odd being in such close proximity to he even if she was now a four-hundred-pound block of stone, and although getting turned to stone was bad news, it might have been worse. The really serious cases of petrification involved dolerite, marble, or, worst, granite.
    • Jennifer deduces that wizards turn themselves into stone in order to slow down the aging process. The process is similar to suspended animation, with the added risk of having an arm or a nose break off if someone gets careless while dusting them off. Mother Zenobia confirms her theories:
      "I do indeed change to stone every night in order to delay death's cold embrace. Eight hours of sleep over an eighty-year lifetime is about twenty-six years. Wasted time, if you ask me, except for dreaming, which I miss. I've been rock during the winter months for the past seventy-six years as well, and when my last fortnight beckons I will be with you for an hour a year. I may last another century as this rate."
    • Conrad Blix is transformed into granite when the Once Magnificent Boo (his wife) regains the index fingers (or at least the bones that are leftover after thirty years at the bottom of a well) that Conrad had arranged to have cut off. The statue is donated to the Hereford Museum so that locals can gawk and insult him.
  • Title Drop: The sound made by two mirror-image quark beasts as they prepare to fuse and explode is called "the Song of the Quark Beast," and gets dropped in Chapter 24:
    The low hum rose in pitch as the Quarkbeasts moved closer to each other. It reached a whine, then lowered again as they moved a few inches apart. This was the song of the Quarkbeast.
    Others who have heard it are now little more than dust. But if I was about to die, then I was glad to have heard the song. It was lonely — one of lament, of unknown knowledge. A song of resignation, of poetry given and received. The small movements that the Quarkbeasts made as they padded around each other altered the hum so subtly that it sounded like an alto bassoon, but with one single note, infinitely variable.
    But it wasnt' a song of peace, love, or happiness. It was a requiem — for all of us.
  • Well, This Is Not That Trope: The opening paragraph of Chapter 1 begin with a description of how glamorous the magical industry is, only to be sarcastically refuted in the (very short) very next line.
    I work in the magic industry. I think you'll agree it's pretty glamorous: a life of spells, potions, and whispered enchantments; of levitation, vanishings, and alchemy. Of titanic fights to the death with the powers of darkness, of conjuring up blizzards and quelling storms at sea. Of casting lightning bolts from mountains, of bringing statues to life in order to vanquish troublesome foes.
    If only.

    Tropes in "The Eye of Zoltar" 

  • Angel Unaware: Gabby, one of Addie's professional associates, is implied to be one of the angels working overtime in the Cambrian Empire. He's never seen without a huge backpack to disguise his wings, and he helps Jennifer out of several otherwise hopeless jams.
  • An Arm and a Leg: The Princess loses a hand while defending the caravan from the onslaught of Hollow Men. Jennifer gives her the Helping Hand™ as an Artificial Limb.
  • Baleful Polymorph: A Justified/ Exploited example — after Colin takes a direct hit to his wing from the Cambrian Empire's anti-aircraft artillery, Perkins transforms him into rubber to save him from a deadly fall. The trouble is, he's stuck in that form until the spell wears off.
  • Blessed with Suck: Perkins is a "Burner", a magician who can't channel ambient magic currents the way other wizards can; his spells are fueled by his life force. He's capable of casting incredibly powerful magic on the fly because he isn't limited by the amount of magic he can draw from the environment (which remains at a historic low-ebb), but at the cost of years off his life. Jennifer notes that "Some of the finest magicians on the planet had been Burners, who did one fantastic, game-changing feat of magic and then they were gone."
  • Cast from Lifespan: Perkins has to do some incredibly powerful magic once they get across the border into the Cambrian Empire (like turning a dragon into rubber and performing a full "Genetic Reset" on someone suffering from a magical overdose), and it takes years off his life at a time. He later reveals to Jennifer that this is always how he's cast magic; he's a "Burner," someone who can't draw on the world's ambient magical energies and instead must use his own life force to power his spells.
  • Cool Car: After The Once Magnificent Boo uses Jennifer's orange Volkswagen to fly a captured Tralfamosaur across the border, Jennifer picks out a new car from the basement parking garage of Zambini Towers — a gorgeous Bugatti Royale.
    Inside, it was sumptuously comfortable; outside, the hood was so long that in misty weather it was hard to see the radiator ornament. I chose the car partly because it started pretty much the first time, party because it looked nice, but mostly because it was the biggest.
  • Dancing Pants: Shandar is able to animate suits to do his bidding. They're called "Hollow Men", and they're great for doing heavy lifting, bodyguard work, manual labor, and murdering anyone who discovers Shandar's guanolite factory in the Cambrian Empire.
  • Devolution Device: When Ralph overdoses on magic, Perkins performs a complicated bit of magic called a "Genetic Master Reset," which turns him into an australopithecine. Apparently it was either that or a rabbit.
  • Dismemberment Is Cheap: Jennifer bluffs the border guard into believing the hairy, manly Helping Hand™ she's using as a "power steering" assistant on the Bugatti is her own, spinning a story about how the owner died in an accident and his salvageable body parts were attached to needy amputees. Later, after the Princess loses a hand in battle, Jennifer gives her the Helping Hand as a perfectly serviceable prosthetic.
  • Dragons Prefer Princesses: Invoked — Feldspar Axiom Firebreath IV is interviewed for the job of guarding a princess in a tower and defending her from unworthy suitors.
  • Elephant Graveyard: The legendary Leviathan's graveyard, where the massive, lighter-than-air creatures go to die.
  • Expospeak Gag: A running gag — instead of admitting there is no plan, Jennifer will say something like:
    "How about this," I said. "We modify our plans with regard to ongoing facts as they become known to us, then re-modify them as the situation unfolds."
    "You mean wake it all up as we go along?" asked Perkins.
  • Fantastic Drug: Curtis, one of the jeopardy tourists Jennifer and Perkins encounter in The Cambrian Empire, asks them for some recreational spells he can get high off of with his travel companions. Jennifer tells him "no" flat out, but later Curtis' friend Ralph gets into Perkins' suitcases an overdoses on magic.
    "So listen, I know you run Kazam, so got any S? Y'know, something to while away the dull evenings between bouts of excitement and terror?"
    "Spells," he said in a low voice. "The weirder the better, but none of that 'changing into animals' stuff because it can totally mess with your head."
    He laughed in a clumsy attempt to charm me. The use of magic for recreational purposes was stupid, dangerous, and irresponsible. Supplying mind- or body-altering spells to idiots like Curtis would also have you drummed out of the magic industry quicker than you could say zork.
    "No," I said, "and here's why: You'll start with something simple like a Pollyanna Stone that tells you what you want to hear. Pretty soon you'll move on to stronger and heavier spells that promote unrealistic levels of optimism and self-delusion. After that you'll be always looking for the next spell, and when the spells lose their power you'll be lost, frightened, and bewildered, and your life will tip into a downward spiral of recrimination and despair."
    "Okay, okay," he said, backing away from my icy stare. "I only asked. Boy, some people are so square."
  • Fictional Document: Several new and interesting publications are mentioned during Jennifer's jaunt to the dangerous Cambrian Empire:
    • ''Enjoy the Unspoiled Charms of the Cambrian Empire Without Death or Serious Injury"
    • Death and Injury Avoidance Techniques for the Discerning Traveler in the Western Kingdom
    • Miller's Guide to Kidnappable Personages
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: Queen Mimosa body-swaps the spoiled Princess Shazza with Laura Scrubb, one of the palace's indentured orphan servants, in order to teach the princess some humility.
  • Helping Hands: Lady Mawgon lends Jennifer a disembodied hand to help with steering the Bugatti, but that's not all it can do; kneading bread, copying letters, taking dogs for a walk are all tasks Helping Hand™ is capable of.
    A Helping Hand™ is Memory Pre-Loaded with every dexterous act imaginable, from mending barometers to building box-girder bridges. With a pair of them, you could play Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto, which is seriously hard. More relevant now, a Helping Hand™ can wield a sword as expertly as if it were conducting open-heart surgery — which are not as unrelated as one might think.
  • The High Queen: Queen Mimosa Snodd née Jones, the wife of King Snodd and his better half in every sense of the word. She is described as beautiful, intelligent, and compassionate. Jennifer also mentions her self-sacrificing nature; Mimosa agreed to give up her career as a middle-ranked sorceress to marry the spoiled, despotic King Snodd in order to temper his worst impulses and bear royal heirs that would hopefully turn out less awful than their father.
  • Insistent Terminology: Any time another character calls Jennifer's mission to locate the Eye of Zoltar a "quest," she emphatically denies that it is. Quests come with exorbitant fees from the Questing Federation oversight body, and a higher fatality rate than "searches" or "journeys." At the end of the book, she upgrades their mission to an official quest.
    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.
  • Just Whistle: After saving Jennifer, Addie, and the Princess from the second wave of Hollow Men, Ralph-the-australopithecine (and newly minted Leviathan taming sky pirate) gives Jennifer a whistle made from the tooth of a Leviathan that she can use to summon him if she's ever in danger.
  • Literal Transformative Experience: Invoked — Queen Mimosa body-swaps Princess Shazza with a lowly palace servant in order to teach the spoilt princess humility and responsibility. While initially distraught over the transformation, the Princess quickly learns the values of teamwork and trust while on her expidition with Jennifer.
  • MacGuffin Title: Jennifer gets sent on a journey (not a quest, mind you) to locate the fabled Eye of Zoltar, a magnificent jewel with magical powers.
  • Muggle Born of Mages: Downplayed with Princess Shazza. Her mother is Queen Mimosa Jones, a formerly middle-ranked sorceress (now retired), and her father is the decidedly un-magical King Snodd. The Princess did not inherit her mother's magical gifts. Nothing is known about whether her younger brother, Crown Prince Steve, inherited their mother's talents.
  • Naked People Are Funny: After Ralph is de-evolved into an australopithecine, he spends the rest of the book totally nude (save for a woman's hand bag he picks up later). Everyone who encounters him asks if he knows that his "thingy" is showing.
  • Spoiled Brat: Princess Shazza of the Kingdom of Snodd. Despite her mother's influence, the Princess is incredibly conceited, spoiled, and lazy. It gets to the point that Queen Mimosa takes the drastic step of body-swapping the Princess with an orphan servant in a last-ditch effort to teach her some humility.
  • Synchronization: Downplayed — Princess Shazza gets bodyswapped with indentured orphan servant Laura Scrubb, and at first it seems that they aren't connected at all. But at the end of the book the Princess can feel when Laura, who is still in the Princess' body, is killed in the attack on Snodd Castle.
  • Younger Than They Look: Perkins is only in his teens, but once he starts using Cast from Lifespan magic in the Cambrian Empire, he looks older and older as greater feats of magic are called for. By the end of the book, he looks like he's in his fifties before casting a spell so powerful it evaporates him on the spot, using up the last ten years of his life.


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