Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: 'Dark Lord of Derkholm' by Diana Wynne Jones

   'Dark Lord of Derkholm' was published in 1998, and received the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature in 1999.

   A portal is opened into Wizard Derk's fantastic homeworld, and a scheming Mr. Chesney from the other side contracts the entire population into a live-action tourist destination. As part of Pilgrim Parties guided by Wizards, the tourists fight in planned battles, are captured by the Glamorous Enchantress, escape from besieged cities, and destroy the Dark Lord!  (Spoiler: this year, it's Derk).

   It's the perfect tourist experience and the perfect cash cow for Mr. Chesney -
                          perfect, that is, until this world's inhabitants have had enough.


   I'm not talking about the YouTube giggle fests (although I do love a 'Twilight'-mocking lipdub ). I'm talking about the subtle art of satire, the graceful use of irony, and the power to make a reader care while making them laugh.

   And I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

   'Dark Lord of Derkholm' does more than poke fun at an insane bureaucracy in a fantasy world (the Dark lord is required to produce 109 specialty objects which can be found, deciphered, and then used by tourists in his demise), or the long-standing traditions of magical figures (the Glamorous Enchantress's contractually-obligated revealing wardrobe causes a great deal of consternation). There are flying pigs, (a magical experiment by Derk), unreasonably beautiful elves (who take themselves too seriously), a very grouchy dragon (woken from his 300 year old sleep), and my favorite, carnivorous sheep ("I got them a bit wrong somewhere", Derk admits).

    But more than these wonders, the book is a study in family dynamics (the griffins and children are raised side-by-side), and the difficulty of growing up coupled with growing into your own person. Diana Wynne Jones is a master of the omniscient point of view, brilliantly investing the reader in several different protagonists while keeping all the potency of action in the plot.

    And it is such a glorious plot.

    Be forewarned, that Ms. Jones is well known for treating her Young Adult readers as human beings with their own imaginations. She wastes no time explaining why a magical world operates the way that it does; she respects the reader enough to assume that they will:

     a.) know already or
     b.) make up a good reason for themselves!

   While her details will keep you gasping in awe at iridescent dragons and collapsing citadels, she never crosses the line between Author and Reader's Guide. I am always refreshed by her style, but I know that some readers may find her worlds confusing, so I think it only fair to mention it. But allow me to encourage that you try her anyway. The fact is, I find that not understanding every tiny point is a little more like Life, and makes all the Fantasy feel even more like Reality.

   And that is why she is one of my Beloved Authors.

   This review advises you to to buy 'Dark lord of Derkholm' and keep it handy for the next time you need a breath of fresh air, a hearty laugh, and a wonderful ending.


  1. Wow! I really want to read this one now! The library has it (YAY) so I can't wait! I loved Ms. Jones satire and irony in Howl's Moving Castle! This looks like a great ride! Thanks!

    1. Ooh, Hannah! If you loved Howl, you must read 'House of Many Ways'! :) It's in the same vein, and just as delightful. You might even recognize a few recurring characters!

    2. Yes, I have read House of Many ways! Actually to be honest, I got a little bored with the story and started skipping around looking for those recurring characters. And I found them, yes sir. "What's your name, lad?" "Twinkle." Boy, did that part get stuck in my head! XD

      I also read Castle in the Air. I never was able to figure out who Howl was until he revealed himself. Sophie's indignation over the house makeover was so funny.

  2. Great review, it has compelled me to try it out. :)

  3. I just finished Dark Lord of Derkholm. Yes, it was really good. I was surprised by how dramatic and serious it actually was, because despite the cleverness and absurdity of some of the situations, lives were at stake. I really enjoyed the ending when everything was wrapped up and identities were revealed.

    Blade was probably my favorite character. But they were all excellent. Scales was awesome and I actually really liked Prince Talithan (despite his indifference to Expendables and over dramatics concerning Pretty).

    Thank you for introducing me to this book. Now I must read Year of the Griffen to find out what happens next! :)