Dark Lord of Derkholm

Jones, Diana Wynne. Dark Lord of Derkholm. ISBN 0064473368.

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(This review originally appeared in Mythprint 36:1 (#202) in January 1999.)

Reviewed by Berni Phillips

Role-playing games and living history affairs can be fun if all participants are willing. Imagine that you are forced to live as a participant in a bad fantasy novel. This is what Wizard Derk and his people have to put up with. Mr. Chesney, who holds control over the inhabitants of Derk’s planet by power of his pocket demon, sponsors Pilgrim Parties, groups of offworld tourists who are charged exorbitant prices to tour Derk’s world and experience a Tolclone type adventure. To make things worse, Wizard Derk is selected to be this year’s Dark Lord, an occupation which is not only extremely destructive to his area’s ecology and economy, but which also takes him from his favorite occupation of genetic engineering.

This occupation of his has expanded his family so that, in addition to his human son and daughter, he also has griffin sons and daughters, intelligent creatures of his creation which possess intelligence, personality, and cells from both him and his wife. He also has done other animal experiments, producing Big Hen, Friendly Cows, nasty-tempered geese, and flying pigs, to name just a few.

Still, he is aware of the depth of his responsibility as this year’s Dark Lord, so he begins preparations, preparations that are unexpectedly cut short when he is brutally attacked by an ancient and very angry dragon. Their father’s incapacitation prompts Derk’s offspring of both species to take over for him as best they can. Mum would help, but she has her hands full as this year’s Glamorous Enchantress.

Jones has written another winner, funny and touching at the same time. This is a coming of age story as much as anything else as Derk’s oldest sons, the human, Blade, and the griffin, Kit, assume so much responsibility resulting in an inevitable growth of skill and spirit. Below the mirth, she has very pointed observations to make about exploitation: exploitation of the environment, of the workers, and even of those who enjoy the products of the exploitation. This message never gets in the way of the fun, however, as Jones proves once again that she is one of the top fantasy writers today and one of the even fewer who can write comic fantasy without being cloying.

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