Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

The reason Kevin always slept fully dressed on the sofa when he had a perfectly good bedroom was because he had foreseen that he would die in his bed, and reasoned that if he stayed away from it he wouldn't die. That might sound daft until you consider that the Remarkable Kevin was our precognitive, a breed of sorceror who had tuned their attention to shuffling through the millions of potential futures and occasionally picking out a winner. But, as with all oracles, his visions could be vague and misleading.
Kevin has, in fact, received a hint that the Great Zambini might be due for another appearance. Not, as you might think from the name, a stage appearance, but a brief materialisation during which his employees at Kazam (the employment agency for sorcerors and soothsayers) might be able to catch up on his instructions:
The last time this happened, Kevin had us all staking out a village in the weekends-only Duchy of Cotswold, where Zambini reappeared for a full fifty-seven seconds before vanishing again. Despite fifteen of us dispersed around the village with eyes peeled, we missed Zambini when he turned up in a jam cupboard belonging to a Mrs Bishop.
The sixteen-year-old acting boss of Kazam, Jennifer Strange, really needs Zambini's help. Magic has faded to the point where it barely works at all, but despite this rival firm iMagic is currying favour with King Snodd IV of Hereford by promising that overall control of Magic will be his -- all that's needed is the appointment of iMagic boss the Amazing Blix to the new post of Court Mystician, and hey presto! the mobile telephone network that the king wants so badly will be reanimated. Jennifer knows that this is pure opportunism -- there simply isn't the magical power to draw on, and practitioners are in short supply too. Nonetheless, Blix manages to manoeuvre Kazam into a sorcerous dual with iMagic, and then starts playing very dirty indeed.

As with Fforde's adult novels, this one for younger readers has all his usual trademarks -- punning names, corporate-speak, subversions of familiar names and places, footnotes, and so on. My favourites here are the Transient Moose, who drifts around materialising and disappearing again and, of course, the Quarkbeast itself, proof, if any were needed, that Fforde must have grown up revelling, as I did, in the pursuit of the Questing Beast in T.H. White's The Once and Future King. The Song of the Quarkbeast is actually a sequel to The Last Dragonslayer, which I haven't read -- I didn't really have any difficulty picking up the ideas and jokes, but I have read several of Fforde's other books, which might be an advantage. Thursday Next fans will find themselves in familiar territory. If Fforde's humour works for you -- and it doesn't for everyone -- then I don't think it matters very much where you dive in. You'll be in for a lot of fun, some of it very silly indeed, and you'll almost certainly find that you start to care quite a lot about the characters. Happily, there is a third to come.

* I forgot to say that this is a review for Once Upon a Time VIII!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Shiny shiny shiny

I meant to do a review post this weekend but other things keep interrupting. So I'm simply going to say that on Monday Shiny New Books: what to read next and why launches. Edited by four fantastic book bloggers, Simon of Stuck-in-a-Book, Harriet from Harriet Devine's Blog, Annabel from Annabel's House of Books and Victoria from Tales from the Reading Room, it's going to bring us reviews, recommendations, articles, even competitions. You can sign up for the newsletter on the website, like on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and follow on Feedly or Bloglines or Google + or whatever.

I haven't looked forward to anything so much for ages! I've been going round humming the Velvets' song all week: "Shiny, shiny, shiny books of leather...."