If, next door to our ordinary world, there existed a world full of magic, wouldn't you want to visit it? That's the situation that Diana Wynne Jones explores in Dark Lord of Derkholm
, and she makes an effective and comical tale of it.
Groups of tourists, called Pilgrim Parties and organized by the cold-hearted profiteer Mr. Chesney, take a portal to the magical realm, where they are shepherded about the countryside by a wizard guide. Mr. Chesney sets the rules, such as that all wizard guides must have long white beards--even 14-year-old Blade--and every Party gets to "slay" the Dark Lord. No wizard wants to be chosen as the year's Dark Lord, because Mr. Chesney demands large battles that cause great devastation in the local villages and farms, and he doesn't pay very well, but he does have a captive demon to enforce his will. This year, things are going especially badly for the chosen Dark Lord, Derk. He can't seem to keep his evil forces on the right track, despite help from his son Blade, his daughter Shona the bard, and his griffin sons and daughters. His chief aide, Barnabas, is drinking heavily and muddling his spells. And the dwarfs are taking their baskets of gold as tribute to the one they say is the real Dark Lord--Mr. Chesney.
Jones spoofs many of the trappings of fantasy epics, while at the same time portraying a family, with its surface squabbles and underlying love, through a rollicking and somewhat unwieldy story. Her messages about exploitation and responsibility come through clearly. Although not as tightly focused as some of her earlier novels, the galloping pace makes Dark Lord of Derkholm a quick, fun read for her numerous fans. --Blaise Selby
From Publishers Weekly
On a par with Jones's best (Charmed Life; Fire and Hemlock), this expansive novel manages to be both an affectionate send-up of the sword-and-sorcery genre and a thrilling fantasy adventure in its own right. Something is decidedly rotten in the enchantment-laden world in which teenage fledgling wizard Blade has grown up. Each year, the country's magical agrarian economy is disrupted by the Pilgrim Parties?tourists from a world much like ours, come in search of Tolkienesque adventure. Organized by the sinister and implacably bureaucratic Mr. Chesney ("A Dark Lord's citadel must always be a black castle with a labyrinthine interior lit by baleful fire?you will find our specifications in the guide Mr. Addis will give you"), the Pilgrim Parties are in fact highly choreographed package tours. The local population is bullied, cajoled and paid hard cash to participate, all because of a deal struck with a demon some 40 years ago. This year's appointee to the onerous post of Dark Lord (who must act as chief villain and tour-coordinator) is Blade's mild-mannered father, Derk, who would far rather spend his time creating marvelous new animals (he already has flying pigs, talking horses and clever geese). When an encounter with a dragon puts Derk out of commission, Blade's entire family?including his five griffin siblings?must help. As elaborate charades are staged for the tours, a deeper magic also emerges which (in combination with some hilariously banal legalities) offers the hope of release from Mr. Chesney's domination. Thought-provoking and utterly engaging, this tour-de-force succeeds on numerous levels. The marvelously characterized griffins are a particularly noteworthy pleasure. Ages 12-up.
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