Diana Wynne Jones,
Dark Lord of Derkholm
(Greenwillow, 1998)

Dark Lord of Derkholm is anything but. He's really the Wizard Derk, and all he wants is to be left alone to pursue his magical projects which include friendly cows, flying pigs and horses with wings. (All right, so the sheep turned out to be carnivorous. No one's perfect.) Derk is perfectly content with his life at Derkholm, which he shares with his wife, Mara, creator of miniature universes; his son, Blade, a fledgling wizard; and his bard-to-be daughter, Shona. In addition, he includes among his children five griffins: Kit, Callette, Lydda, Don and Elda.

But tourist season is upon them, bringing Mr. Chesney's Pilgrim Parties, tours from another world which import groups of people who want to experience living -- and, for those whose family pay an additional fee, dying -- a high fantasy adventure. This year, it's Derk's turn to be the evil Dark Lord, but by this time, everyone in this world is entirely fed up with the Pilgrim Parties. They are powerless to stop Mr. Chesney, however, because he holds two things: a demon -- and a contract.

Derk decides to make a go of it, but it seems that everything goes wrong from the start. Derk is injured in a misunderstanding with a dragon, and his children, human and griffin, try to jump into the gap. From that point on, it's anyone's guess what will happen next. Jones packs every high fantasy element you can think of into her plot, from ethereal elves to sturdy dwarves, smoky inns and wretched hovels.

Jones writes with ready wit and a keen ear and eye for details. She guides the reader deftly through the complicated twists and turns, neatly tying it all together, but never making it obvious when she does. Things are seldom what they seem, particularly if booked on a Pilgrim Party.

Her characters are solidly drawn and believable. She also has fun with fantasy stereotypes as well -- anyone who has read any fantasy at all will recognize the "types" -- and appreciate what she has done with them.

Jones's style is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett or Tom Holt -- in fact, a passing mention is made that a pigsty belonging to a Tom Holt will remain standing in a village that is otherwise being dismantled -- but her style of humor is less broad or pointed as theirs. Her writing complements theirs rather than imitating or deriving from it.

Jones has a reputation for unique and original fantasy, and in Dark Lord of Derkholm she upholds her standards.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Dark Lord of Derkholm won the Mythopoeic Award for children's literature in 1999.

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