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Dark Lord of Derkholm Hardcover – October 29, 1998

91 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Derkholm Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 770L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Greenwillow; 1st edition (October 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688160042
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688160043
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,010,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In a career spanning four decades, award-winning author Diana Wynne Jones wrote more than forty books of fantasy for young readers. Characterized by magic, multiple universes, witches and wizards--and a charismatic nine-lived enchanter--her books were filled with unlimited imagination, dazzling plots, and an effervescent sense of humor that earned her legendary status in the world of fantasy. From the very beginning, Diana Wynne Jones's books garnered literary accolades: her novel Dogsbody was a runner-up for the 1975 Carnegie Medal, and Charmed Life won the esteemed Guardian children's fiction prize in 1977. Since then, in addition to being translated into more than twenty languages, her books have earned a wide array of honors--including two Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honors--and appeared on countless best-of-the-year lists. Her work also found commercial success: in 1992 the BBC adapted her novel Archer's Goon into a six-part miniseries, and her best-selling Howl's Moving Castle was made into an animated film by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki in 2004. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006, and became one of the most financially successful Japanese films in history. The author herself has also been honored with many prestigious awards for the body of her work. She was given the British Fantasy Society's Karl Edward Wagner Award in 1999 for having made a significant impact on fantasy, received a D.Lit from Bristol University in 2006, and won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Fantasy Convention in 2007.

Born just outside London in 1934, Diana Wynne Jones had a childhood that was "very vivid and often very distressing"--one that became the fertile ground where her tremendous imagination took root. When the raids of World War II reached London in 1939, the five-year-old girl and her two younger sisters were torn from their suburban life and sent to Wales to live with their grandparents. This was to be the first of many migrations, one of which brought her family to Lane Head, a large manor in the author-populated Lake District and former residence of John Ruskin's secretary, W.G. Collingwood. This time marked an important moment in Diana Wynne Jones's life, where her writing ambitions were magnified by, in her own words, "early marginal contacts with the Great." She confesses to having "offending Arthur Ransome by making a noise on the shore beside his houseboat," erasing a stack of drawings by the late Ruskin himself in order to reuse the paper, and causing Beatrix Potter (who also lived nearby) to complain about her and her sister's behavior. "It struck me," Jones said, "that the Great were remarkably touchy and unpleasant, and I thought I would like to be the same, without the unpleasantness." Prompted by her penny-pinching father's refusal to buy the children any books, Diana Wynne Jones wrote her first novel at age twelve and entertained her sisters with readings of her stories. Those early stories--and much of her future work--were inspired by a limited but crucial foundation of classics: Malory's Morte D'Arthur, The Arabian Nights, and Epics and Romances of the Middle Ages. Fantasy was Jones's passion from the start, despite receiving little support from her often neglectful parents. This passion was fueled further during her tenure at St. Anne's College in Oxford, where lectures by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis increased her fascination with myth and legend. She married Medievalist John Burrow in 1956; the couple have three sons and six grandchildren.

After a decade of rejections, Diana Wynne Jones's first novel, Changeover, was published in 1970. In 1973, she joined forces with her lifelong literary agent, Laura Cecil, and in the four decades to follow, Diana Wynne Jones wrote prodigiously, sometimes completing three titles in a single year. Along the way she gained a fiercely loyal following; many of her admirers became successful authors themselves, including Newbery Award winners Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman, and Newbery Honor Book author Megan Whalen Turner. A conference dedicated solely to her work was held at the University of West England, Bristol, in 2009. Diana Wynne Jones continued to write during her battle with lung cancer, which ultimately took her life in March 2011. Her last book, Earwig and the Witch, will be published by Greenwillow Books in 2012.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Helena Jole on October 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I just finished this book last night (stayed up past my bedtime again), and I had to look and see what other people thought about it. I was surprised by the different reactions. If you like Diana Wynne Jones, you'll probably enjoy this one (my husband, while reading it, said, "She's brilliant!") but if you don't like involved, complicated (at times confusing) plots, then you might want to stay away from it. I did enjoy it a lot, but not so much that I'm going to give it a blanket recommendation. It's not for everyone.
I was especially intrigued by the idea of a human family with griffin children. I think that was my favorite thing about the book. I also enjoyed the sarcastic geese and the Friendly Cows, and all the other animals.
The whole exploitation thing was well done. When I was reading about how everyone had to change their lives around and knock down towns and things for the tours, I said to my husband, "This reminds me of the Olympics!" (We just drove through Salt Lake City recently and didn't enjoy the experience).
I didn't think the gang rape scene was too bad--you get that idea, but it doesn't actually SAY that Shona was raped (Shona, not Sukey). The whole business with the soldiers was all very creepy and unpleasant.
I gave this book 4 stars because it is a bit disjointed and hard to follow at times, and ends with a pretty serious deus-ex-machina. Jones has a tendency to end her books (from what I've read so far) with great earth-shattering changes that happen all at once. At least the demons and the gods had been established earlier in the story, so they didn't just come out of nowhere.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Yen on December 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
The way I came about this book is rather interesting. I found this in an English book store in Taiwan and was so completely enthralled by it that I had bought the sequel by the time I had to fly back to the US a few days later!

I think the book is not just great fun, but it has its darker side. In fact, I see this as one of Jones' grimmest books, which is odd because many people approach a book by Jones assuming they were written for pre-teens and only pre-teens and that they are good fun. Sadly, it is when readers attempt to put a work like Dark Lord into neat boxes such as "Juvenile Fantasy (TM) (R) (C)" when they find that her books wi ll tear its way out of hard-and-fast categories and bite them squarely in their bottoms.

It is easy to see that this is where most of the negative criticisms on this page come from. Having said that, dismissing this book as overcomplicated and vague is simply absurd if one realizes that her books were meant to be very unusual, fleeting, and surreal.

In fact, the author herself states in several interviews that the reason she writes the way she does and gets away with it is that generally, pre-teens have the easiest time accepting fantastic worlds and ultimately the best minds for cracking a difficult plot like Dark Lord's.

"Children are used to making an effort to understand."
--Article in The Medusa by DWJ


"I...relied on my readers having the nous to pick up the situation as they went along...Adults are different. They need me to do all that for them."
--The Medusa

Having said all that, this is a wonderful book that, after having bored myself to death with the likes of Melanie Rawn, David Drake, Eldon Thompson, and David Gemmel, I come back to read again and again.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By ATP on January 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
My daughter got this book for her birthday, and I immediately borrowed it. Truly wonderful - a very funny and affectionate send-up of D&D. But my daughter had a hard time getting into the story. Probable cause: after a rousing start there's a fair amount of set-up time for the complicated plot, and lots of characters to keep track of. For Christmas, the same friends gave my daughter "Year of the Griffin." This time it was love at first sight. "Year of the Griffin" begins with a group of new students arriving at school, so the introduction of the characters is very simple and straightforward. After finishing "Griffin," my daughter returned to "Dark Lord" and read it straight through. While that's the wrong order chronologically, it might be the right order for some readers. (I know this book has nothing to do with ballet. But it's only natural for ballerinas to enjoy fantasy, right?)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Yoshitsune on August 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I wasn't expecting much when I first picked up this book, but it turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. "Dark Lord of Derkholm" keeps a nice pace so you are not bored once, and there are several good laughs through out the story. This book is a wonderful spoof on the whole concept of the evil Dark Lord versus the good guys. I believe people of most ages would definitely enjoy reading this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By K. Spira on September 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was shocked to see several truely awful reviews for a book I consider a masterpiece. It is very funny, while at the same time utterly gripping. Certainly the fact that it is simultainously a spoof and a high fantasy confuses some readers, but that is the delight of the book. I laughed and cried (literally). I have read it twice and my 13 year old son has read it at least three times (once a year). Although he has already devoured every fantasy (and quite a few nonfantasys) imaginable, he keeps coming back to Dark Lord like an old friend.
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