a review by Nalini Haynes
Song of the Quarkbeast is set in an alternate world in the UK where there are dragons, quarkbeasts, magic and more. The second in the Last Dragonslayer series, it is possible to read Song of the Quarkbeast alone. There are sufficient explanations given that the first time reader can pick up on the ongoing story threads and understand the world without having read the first book, however I felt like I missed out on some fun.
Jennifer Strange is a foundling in a world where there are a lot of orphans due to the Troll Wars. She’s working for a guild of magicians until she turns eighteen, at which time she will apply for citizenship. Jennifer has good relations with the guild of which she is de facto manager while the usual manager pops in and out of the timestream due to unwise spell casting. However, not all of Jennifer’s relationships are on a good footing: the king positively dislikes Jennifer after events from the first in the series, there is a rival guild seeking to undermine Jennifer’s guild, and some prejudiced people dislike foundlings on principle. The Youthful Perkins is a wizard about Jennifer’s age who asks her out, complicating matters at work. Tiger Prawns is another foundling who, while technically Jennifer’s assistant, will take over from Jennifer when she turns eighteen.
In the first book a quarkbeast befriended Jennifer and then died, leaving it’s twin alone in the world. The twin quarkbeast is looking for something, possibly looking for it’s lost twin, but it definitely finds trouble. Quarkbeasts can be vicious, they’re fast, they lick chrome like it’s candy and they eat metal. Perkins has to sit his exam (think pass his OWLs), the guild is trying to meet up with their time-hopping boss and the rival guild wants to destroy them. Just your average day.
In terms of role models for younger people, Song provides strong role models: Jennifer who, at age sixteen, doesn’t take crap from anyone, manages the guild very nicely and yet is likeable with social skills. The Youthful Perkins is a nice Ponder Stibbons type (Discworld) who admires Jennifer, taking the ‘new man’ role. Tiger Prawns is there for younger members of the audience and to provide a bit of comic relief without being embarrassing; he could probably be considered to be a young version of Iolaus (from Hercules). The adults tend to be caricatures, whether they play the good guys or villains. While the villain of the piece is rather two-dimensional and comical overall, this fitted in with the style of the piece.
This is the kind of book that has many levels; think Pixar or Shrek. Kids will enjoy it, but there is another, deeper level of enjoyment for those with a basic understanding of, for example, quarks in quantum mechanics or international politics. I suspect there is another level for those who live in the UK as the Ununited Kingdoms (no, that’s not a typo) have a political system evocative of the Hitchhiker’s Guide. The reader who hasn’t broadened their knowledge base to cover these topics can enjoy the story on a more superficial level.
The Song of the Quarkbeast reminds me of Artemis Fowl and the early Tiffany Aching books (Wee Free Men and Hat full of sky). I enjoyed this as a fun light action read and fans of the above will too. While this is aimed at a younger market, this book has wider appeal than the traditional marketing suggests.