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Monday, December 8, 2014

Jennifer Strange, a quarkbeast and some has-been magicians versus the Ununited Kingdoms, random trolls, and corporate magic!

Fforde, Jasper (2011) The Song of the Quarkbeast  Boston: Harcourt Mifflin.

"Trolls are noted for two things:  Their ability to hide motionless and undetected in a damp riverbed or pile of dead wood for months if necessary, and a lack of any sense of moderation when it comes to the use of violence"
                                       --Jasper Fforde, The Song of the Quarkbeast 195-6
How did I not know about this book for three years?  Maybe because publishers aren't sure if it is a young adult book or a fantasy book?  Who knows.  I am glad I found it eventually, though, because this book is a riot.  It is about a sixteen year old girl named Jennifer Strange who is the acting manager of Kazam Inc (the real manager and owner disappeared some years ago). Jennifer has no magical powers.  She manages an oddball collection of wizards and magicians.  Since the events of the first book in the series (The Last DragonSlayer), the magic has been coming back into the land -- but it is coming slowly and if Kazam is going to survive, they need to win a challenge put forth by their evil corporate rivals, iMagic.  Fortunately, Jennifer is resourc3eful, persuasive, plucky, and given to hair-braded schemes that work out in the end.
In a literary world filled with books that seem to be just a shade or two removed from Harry Potter and his friends in Hogwarts, this book is different.  Magic here is sometimes weak, sometimes given to power surges, and always unpredictable.  Spells are written in a system that resembles computer code.  And evil magicians are sneaky and tricky in ways that the somewhat predictable Voltemort could never imagine.  I am not saying it is better than Harry Potter -- I am saying it is an entirely different world.  Harry and his friends take the Hogwart's Express to get to school.  Jennifer travels in a beat-up orange VW bug and sometimes a threadbare magic carpet.  Harry can turn to Dumbledore and McGonagall for advice.  Jennifer's mentor is lost in time and space, he two wisest magicians become frozen in the beginning of the book, and so she has to rely on an intern and her second string of wizards.  Harry moves through a castle filled with interesting ghosts from the past.  Jennifer has a ghostly moose. 
I could go on, but I'll keep this short.  This is a delightfully fun, action-packed book.  Strong Fifth-grade readers and up would enjoy it (the book has a quarkbeast on the cover, not a picture of the heroine, so boys as well as girls can read it without being embarrassed.  There is nothing significantly objectionable or challenge-able (other than the perennially problematic fact that there is magic in the book -- but it resembles nothing even remotely occultic.)   You'd like it.  So would your students.

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