Sunday 21 December 2014

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

The Eye of Zoltar (third book in the Jennifer Strange series) continues the adventures of Jennifer Strange and her wizardly companions more or less where the previous book left off. It starts in the middle of an action sequence (a Trafalmasaur has escaped, and guess who has been selected to act as bait in a risky scheme to catch it again...) and keeps up a brisk pace and hilarious sense of humour throughout.

This time, Jennifer is off to the Cambrian empire (Mid-Wales), where she has to try to retrieve a magical relic (the Eye of Zoltar, a ruby), negotiate for the release of a wizard, all while trying to evade the perilous dangers of the land, including carnivorous slugs (presumably inspired by the fact that the only new species ever discovered in Wales is, in fact, a carnivorous, nocturnal GHOST SLUG, so don't think this part of the story is too far-fetched...), wild Trafalmasaurs, aggressive cannibalistic taxidermy enthusiasts and other dangerous tribes. The satire / farcical absurdity is great, the sense of humour witty, and the story is richly enhanced by the presence of a princess and a tour guide who both add much to the plot.

Where The Eye of Zoltar differs from the previous novels is that it has a somewhat higher body count. Or maybe it just seemed that way to me. I found it a little baffling how many people were killed as collateral damage of the various adventures and incidents, and this somewhat callous approach to life and death detracted from my enjoyment of the story. It made perfect sense to take an unsentimental approach to things in some contexts (where it fit the ultra-perilous adventure tourism / fatality probability satire), but at other times it seemed a lot more dubious to me. (The comment about honour being weaponised manners is very funny, but the result is quite sad).

If you've enjoyed the other Jennifer Strange novels, there's every chance you'll enjoy this one too. I certainly did (even if it was a little darker than I felt comfortable with).

Rating: 4/5.

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