This is the third in Jasper Fforde’s YA series featuring Jennifer Strange, the competent 16-year-old running an agency of magicians in the Ununited Kingdom, a highly skewed alternate world UK. Jennifer’s the kind of girl who takes disasters in stride, which is fortunate because just as she is about to have her first date she and her young man have to alter their plans to act as bait for a crazed dinosaur-sized magical creature on a rampage, and almost immediately after they must embark on a quest across the border with a petulant self-absorbed princess in tow to find the Eye of Zoltar, though they’re be careful to not refer to their expedition as a quest because that would bring on reams of paperwork and substantial fees.
Romance is not Fforde’s strong suit, but brilliant not quite absurd absurdities with frequent enough wisps of truth to make them irresistibly funny are, and that’s on full display here. I’ve been missing the Neanderthals from the early books of Fforde’s wonderful Thursday Next series (a favorite of mine because it’s full of literary references) so I was thrilled to find a new Australopithecine character here. There’s a satisfying ending to Eye of Zoltar, but the good news is it’s a to-be-continued story so there will be at least one more of these books packed with nonstop action, strong female characters, unrelenting wit.