The Great Troll War by Jasper Fforde
(Hodder & Stoughton, 2021)
Reviewed by Graham Andrews
Before me, as I write, is the proof copy of The Great Troll War. Front-cover blurb: “A LONG TIME AGO MAGIC FADED AWAY. NOW IT IS BACK WITH A VENGEANCE.” All very reminiscent of The Magic Goes Away and The Magic May Return, but only if Larry Niven had written them in collaboration with Terry Pratchett or Tim Holt. But Troll War is, in even happier fact, the final instalment of “the Last Dragonslayer Chronicles, from the Number One Sunday Times bestselling author JASPER FFORDE” (back-cover blurb). I could scribble a “story so far” synopsis of the previous three volumes: The Last Dragonslayer (2010); The Song of the Quarkbeast (2011); The Eye of Zoltar (2014). But that job has already been jobbed on Wikipedia. And, more wittily, by Fforde himself:
Where We Are Now
So who am I? Jennifer Strange. S-T-R-A-N-G-E. Rhymes with ‘Grange’. Y’know, the sixteen-year-old who was running Kazam, the House of Enchantment?
Then how about this: I was the Last Dragonslayer.
Right, her. The kid with the dragons.”
That the trolls were here at all was due to Troll War V, which had been going on for only two weeks but already had a clear winner: the Trolls. They had flooded out of Trollvania and rampaged rapidly southwards with little resistance from the various Republics, Duchies, Social Collectives, Fiefdoms, Principalities and privately run City States of the UnUnited Kingdoms. The rapid invasion was due to a favourable tactical advantage: they were indifferent to us. Some humans think of rabbits in the same way, nuisances who damage the land, breed without conscience and are good only for the pot. (A “crossover” reference to The Constant Rabbit, q.v.)
The whole novel is written in the same jaunty tone of auctorial voice, which might put off some readers, but not this one (well, even I could have done without the jarring jokes about John Nettles and other such self-indulgent esoterica). Tiger Prawns (once Magnificent Boo, Monty Vanguard and General Warrior) is sitting with Molly (a Resistance-fighter vegan Troll), nicknamed Moll the Troll. They are looking for the particular shade of cerulean blue hated by Trolls:
“How about this one?” said Tiger, showing [Moll] a Dulux colour swatch.
“Nope,” said the Troll.
“What about this?” he asked, showing her another with several different shades upon it. “Anything here you find even mildly offensive?”
“Nothing at all,” she said. “In fact, I think I’d quite like the spare cave decked out in something like that.”
Jennifer Strange and her fragile alliance have only 48 hours in which to stop the Trolls from seizing what little is left of this altworld Cornwall. The Trolls have allied themselves with an all-powerful wizard called the Mighty Shandar, who has established a HENRY (Hex Energy Neutralising Reversal Yielder) force field, thereby neutralising whatever remaining magic the defenders have left at their disposal. Fear not, however. Not only are the Trolls and Shandar defeated, but the newly-formed United Kingdoms will be aligned more closely than ever with Europe. Make of that what you ideologically will. SPOILER ALERT. Although the story has been ostensibly told from Jennifer’s point of view, a Ffordean fast one has been pulled near the end. Here are some words from the Actual Author:
“Tiger had been invaluable in giving me the basics of the story as he had known Jennifer the best, and had established himself as the go-to person for any Jennifer Strange consultations. Without Tiger’s say-so The Last Dragonslayer Chronicles would not be simply unpublishable, they’d be dead in the water. Tiger had invoked Jennifer’s spirit in his decision:
“Get it right or don’t do it at all.”