As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

June 10, 2011

THE DARK LORD OF DERKHOLM by Diana Wynne Jones, 1998

Dark Lord of DerkholmMr. Chesney operates Pilgrim Parties, a tour group that takes paying participants into an outer realm where the inhabitants play frightening and foreboding roles. The time has come to end the staged madness . . . but can it really be stopped? Master storyteller Diana Wynne Jones serves up twists and turns, introduces Querida, Derk, Blade, and Shona and a remarkable cast of wizards, soldiers, kings, dragons, and griffins, and mixes in a lively dash of humor. With all the ingredients of high fantasy, this unforgettable novel will delight fans old and new. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Megan Hutchins

Sorry. There's no evil cloak-wearing tyrants here -- just a soulless CEO. The titular Dark Lord is actually a kind-hearted, animal-loving family man named Derk. Once a year, CEO Mr. Chesney, who owns Derk's magical world, forces everyone to put on "Pilgrim Parties", a faux adventure for tourists from our world. Being the dark lord for Mr. Chesney is a horrible job -- redecorating your house into a lair of evil, pretending to die once a week for pilgrims -- and this year it's Derk's turn.

Diana Wynne Jones' fantasy world is familiar, yet with a twist of its own. Derk is more scientist than wizard, and his sentient griffon children (along with the two human ones) play a large role in the book. She digs deep into the premise, showing how the Pilgrim Parties cripple Derk's world and how Mr. Chesney uses the Pilgrim Parties for extra profit (the armies of the Dark Lord are full of dangerous, drugged criminals governments paid him to off, for example).

I still smile when I think about the premise of this book. It's an exciting, fun fantasy novel that turns any number of tropes on their head -- a great read for anyone who loves fantasy.

Market: Young Adult/Adult Fiction (I've seen it classified both ways; the writing feels YA, but the main character is a middle-aged man)
Language: None-Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild-Moderate
Mature Themes: Tyranny, commercialism, capitol punishment

Book formats:


Anonymous said...

I LOVE Diana Wynne Jones's writing!!! Thanks for this review, Megan. I'm excited to read this book!

Pica said...

I'm reading this right now. It's great! If anyone likes this, I'd also recommend her Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is a laugh-out-loud encyclopedia of the cliches of Fantasy, and the the must-have guide for any tourist embarking on a Pilgrim Party.

MKHutchins said...

I feel slow, now. I'd heard the title "Tough Guide to Fantasy Land" but hadn't ever connected it to Dianna Wynn Jones. She was terribly prolific, and all of it so good...

Amy Finnegan {} said...

You know, if I saw this cover at a bookstore I would walk right past it because I rarely get into high fantasy, which is what the cover strongly indicates. But while reading this review, I realized I really CAN'T judge a book by its cover! It sounds like an especially fun read, one foot in reality, and the other out of it :)

Thank you, Megan!