Sometimes, when you’re rummaging around in the heap that the fantasy shelves can at times be, you find a gem. It’s a small, unassuming little thing, but all the more precious for being so unexpected. Diana Wynne Jones‘ Dark Lord of Derkholm is such a gem.
I’m not sure which came first, this or her Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but one obviously spawned the other. This means that Dark Lord of Derkholm is a satirical, delightfully irreverent little novel. Yet while it spears the genre with great skill and humor, it contains depths the likes of which many so-called serious fantasy novels never achieve.
The characters range from endearing and fun to annoying and fun, and though there are those to love and those to hate, there weren’t any I disliked because they weren’t well-developed. I especially loved Derk, the put-upon wizard who is forced to take up the position of Dark Lord, and has a particular love for magically cross-breeding creatures, which results in griffins, flying horses, and even winged pigs. The characters were all distinctive, even the griffins, who had very human-like personalities. Heck, even the winged pigs were distinctive, not to mention they’re cause for a few good laughs.
There’s some interesting twists and turns to the plot, but more importantly are the themes. It seems to me a shame that most bookstores will shelve Dark Lord of Derkholm in the young adult section, because it’s full of serious, mature themes perfectly suited to an adult audience.
If you have no tolerance for fantasy satires you might not like it. But even if you don’t wear your irreverence on your sleeve quite as much as I do, you might just find yourself charmed by Dark Lord of Derkholm. Believe me, it’s worth trying.