As a kid, Diana Wynne Jones was one of my favorite authors. I began reading her YA books in elementary school and even picked up a couple of her adult novels during grad school.
We went to visit some friends at their cabin over Memorial Day weekend, failing to realize that the only books I had along were on the Kindle… and dragging electronics to the beach with a passel of little kids did not seem like a good idea. Luckily the cabin was furnished with a lovely bookshelf with a whole collection of books by Jones! I was given permission to take a whole stack of her books home with me and Dark Lord of Derkholm happened to be in that collection.
Everyone – wizards, soldiers, farmers, elves, dragons, kings and queens alike – is fed up with Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties: groups of tourists from the world next door who descend en masse every year to take the Grand Tour. What they expect are all the trappings of a grand fantasy adventure, including the Evil Enchantress, Wizard Guides, the Dark Lord, Winged Minions, and all. And every year different people are chosen to play these parts. But now they’ve had enough: Mr Chesney may be backed by a very powerful demon, but the Oracles have spoken. Now it’s up to the Wizard Derk and his son Blade, this year’s Dark Lord and Wizard Guide, not to mention Blade’s griffin brothers and sisters, to save the world from Mr Chesney’s depredations.
I’ll admit, I read this story once before in middle school, so I was curious to see if I’d enjoy it as much as I had the first time. May be the nostalgia talking, but I still loved this book! The story line and even the writing style seemed a bit cheesy at first (understandable since it is YA), but Jones writes with a comical style that keeps you chuckling to the end. Her books can be slightly ridiculous at times, but the weird and wild parts keep you reading late into the night.
Jone’s world is mesmerizing, with talking griffins, vengeful demons, wizards, and flying pigs, all in a world not much different from our own. The story takes you across the continent, following the off-world tourists as they explore and slowly destroy the landscape not only through battles and arson, but also through educational stagnation and economic hardship. The problems faced in this fantasy world are very realistic and relevant to our own lives despite our sad absence of magic…
The character interaction is unique and enthralling, throwing in worldly dragons, sarcastic dwarves, griffin siblings, honest thieves, and a dark lord who really would rather be creating intelligent carrier pigeons than fighting battles. By the end of the story, you’re fully invested in the welfare of Derk’s family and want to see everything work out for the best. I’ll admit, I shed a few tears the first time I read this story. Family is everything in the end.
Five out of Five stars! Don’t be discouraged by the 500+ page volume, this is a great read for people of all ages. And better yet- there’s a sequel! If you like Dark Lord of Derkholm, check out Year of the Griffin and other books from Jone’s extensive book list 🙂