Dark Lord of Derkholm

As some of you long-time readers may know, I am a big Diana Wynne Jones fan. Now, I say that, but actually I have only read a small fraction of her books. I ran across The Homeward Bounders and Dogsbody when I was in middle school, and read them again and again, and then found Fire and Hemlock and was content never to read another book by her ever because it was so good and it had to be all downhill from there. Since then, I’ve read a few more, but probably not even a quarter of her rambling, wonderful oeuvre. Jenny nudged me, and then Kristen nudged me again, and here I am, late but happy, with Dark Lord of Derkholm.

Derk’s world is almost ruined. The sinister Mr. Chesney, who comes from the next world over, has been leading lucrative Pilgrim Tours through Derk’s world for the last fifty years, and since he has a demon at his command, he gets everything he wants. Everyone must obey him at the double: wizards, dwarfs, elves, bards, commoners — all in the service of providing a suitably picturesque tour (Dark Lord with glowing eyes, attacks by leathery avians, clues, dragons,  treasure, etc.) and lining Mr. Chesney’s pocket. When Derk, a rather scatterbrained wizard, is chosen as this year’s Dark Lord, everyone assumes he’ll make a hash of the job, and perhaps Mr. Chesney will finally go away. But Derk is supported by his large family (made up of people and griffins — Derk’s wizard talent is creating living beings) and he succeeds far better than his colleagues hoped. So when things go badly wrong, it’s clear that other forces are at work.

This book was completely splendid. It’s hopeless even to try to sum up the premise in a few sentences, because it’s huge and complex, and besides, it’s not the premise that’s important, even if it’s clever. What’s important is the way the book works: the sibling dynamics, for instance, between the human children and the griffins. There are a lot of them to keep track of, but you aren’t reading for long before you not only have a sense of their individual voices and quirks, but of the way they relate differently to each other. Or Mara, the mother: her wizard (witch?) talent is to create small mini-universes. I feel that an entire book could be written about this, as if there’s something right around the corner. Or the dragon: Jones has his personality exactly right, wise and with an extremely low tolerance for nonsense, but with unexpected pockets of compassion. Or the humor: the book is funny, a sort of send-up of sword-and-sorcery, but it’s not farce; the emotions are real and the characters are invested.

Jenny swears that all DWJ books are better on a re-read, and I can imagine getting more out of Dark Lord of Derkholm on a second and more leisurely trek through it, but this was such a rollick on my first try that I would recommend it to anyone. And the ending wasn’t confusing! So what more could you ask?

This entry was posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Dark Lord of Derkholm

  1. aartichapati says:

    I enjoyed Dark Lord of Derkholm, but I didn’t LOVE it and now that everyone else says that they love it, I feel like I should reread it because I must have missed some big stuff! I do think it’s a very clever book, and really fun the way it plays on the fantasy tropes. I want to read the sequel, too- Year of the Griffin, I think?

    • Jenny says:

      Well, I didn’t love it as much as I’ve loved some others of her books. I’ve probably read Fire and Hemlock twenty times, easy. But I did really, really enjoy it and find it to be great fun, so I think we probably had about the same reaction. And I didn’t even know there was a sequel until Jenny told me! So I want to read that, too.

  2. CLM says:

    I think I own every book she read but have not had the chance to read this one or the sequel. Clearly, I need to do so slowly! Fire and Hemlock is so complex, I often end up rereading that instead of beginning another. Archer’s Goon is another that the reread is delightful.

    • Jenny says:

      I’ve done the same with Fire and Hemlock! I must have read it five or ten times before I had any inkling of what was going on at the end. And I haven’t read Archer’s Goon, so I’ll take your recommendation (and Jenny’s) there. Thank you!

  3. Kristen M. says:

    Year of the Griffin is much more about the relationships and the characters. And they’re at college! You should really grab that one next. :)
    (And I’m getting so excited for my Fire and Hemlock reread!)

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! I probably will. And I really need to reread the whole Chrestomanci series, because she added a couple of books to it since I read them long ago. And I MUST read Deep Secret. And…. you know how it is!

  4. Jenny says:

    Yay! Dark Lord of Derkholm woooo! I love Kit in this one especially — you get a brief glimpse of him and Blade in the sequel, The Year of the Griffin, and it’s awesome to see what they grow up to be. Year of the Griffin is a completely different sort of a book but equally good. Elda goes to college and has lots of college friends, and they have all sorts of mishaps and adventures.

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