Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones, a book review

Dark Lord of Derkholm is just plain fun. It is a parody but, like all good literary parodies, is a story in its own right.

Mara builds miniature universes; Derk would really like to be left to himself to quietly breed bizarre animals and grow unusual crops. Their children, both human and griffin, are busy with their own plans.  Blade, the eldest human boy, badly wants to go to the university to learn magic and is quarreling with Derk, who has forbidden him to go. Kit, the eldest griffin son, also has a strong magic talent that needs training. Shona, the eldest daughter is planning on heading off to school to be a bard. Unfortunately, their world is being run by Mr. Chesney, a man from another world who sends tours in once a year; the tourists all come from Chesney's world and have been primed to expect a "typical" magic world, full of wizards (with beards), a Dark Lord and his Evil Minions, and assorted other fantasy cliches, all of which Chesney insists the inhabitants of Derk's world provide. In exasperation, the leading wizards of the world turn to the gods, asking what to do to get their world back. The oracles instruct them to appoint Derk as the next Dark Lord and Blade as one of the wizard guides. So much for everyone's plans.  Things get even more complicated when Derk is injured and his children have to take over his Dark Lord duties--Mara is too busy being the year's Glamorous Enchantress to help--and all the while they are all trying to figure out how to stop the tours.

What makes it a favorite? For one thing, it's funny. DWJ plays with the familiar fantasy tropes, turning them inside out and upside down, showing just how stressful being the Dark Lord is--especially when you have to let multiple tour parties kill you every day. Plus, there's all the devastation caused by the rampaging hoards of good and evil and the resulting cost of rebuilding.

Then, as I said, it is a good story: Blade's struggles to learn magic without university help, Kit's difficulties with being a griffin and a magic user, Shona's bardic ambitions, and all the difficulties of sibling rivalry and love are mixed up together with meeting dragons, saving kingdoms, and talking with gods.

Oh, and it has griffins in it. Did I mention that?

Drawback: There are times when the story does drag; it is one of DWJ's books, and mostly, it's a fast fun read, but every now and again, I look up and notice "My, there are a lot of pages to this."

Overall: Recommend it. On the DWJ scale, I'd place it between Witch Week (probably my least favorite, though still fun) and Howl's Moving Castle/Enchanted Glass/House of Many Ways (current favorites among her works).

For another look at this book, look here at Jenny's Books.

Stay tuned for more reviews in the Diana Wynne Jones Week! By the way, there's a sort of an ongoing list of reviews in the comments section here, though possibly Jenny will sort them out into a proper list sometime.

Edit: Jenny not only listed the reviews, she provided a short summary of each.


  1. I will, I promise. I am about to do a round-up post for tomorrow morning, and I shall do another one on Friday, and probably one on Sunday when I announce winners. Thanks for the reminder, though, I'd completely forgotten today was Tuesday. It feels like a Monday.

    I love the griffins! I would like to be friends with Kit. And Lydda, so she could make food for me.

  2. I think I'd find Kit rather daunting in real life.

    But Lydda--yes. Godlike snacks please!

  3. Though I adored the premise this is one of my least favorite Diana Wynne Jones for just the reason you say; it drags a bit. I haven't read it for a while, so I'm not sure exactly why I thought so, but I seem to remember getting the feeling that DWJ was having so much fun sometimes (the magical crops, the goofy technicalities of stuff) that she would forget about her audience for a while and have to drag herself back. I could picture her sitting laughing at her computer.