Dark Lord of Derkholm: A delightfully satirical fantasy

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsDark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDark Lord of Derkholm (1998) is a delightful young adult story for those who like a heavy dose of satire in their fantasy. Similar to Diana Wynne JonesThe Tough Guide to Fantasyland, it pokes fun of the genre we love by exposing and exploiting some of its most common clichés.

The story takes place in a world parallel to ours to which people can travel and pay to have an adventure. The company that sells the tours, Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties, is from our world. Mr. Chesney’s company has constructed a medieval fantasy setting in the parallel world and employs the people who live there to act out the stereotypical characters that its customers expect.

Much to his dismay, this year Derk has been assigned to play the role of the Dark Lord. He’s a likeable fellow who would rather spend his time tinkering in his lab— he genetically engineers creatures such as griffins and flying pigs. Derk is accompanied by a cast of minions, elves, dragons, nobles, peasants, and all the other folks we expect in this fantasyland.

But this year the cast members realize that Mr. Chesney is taking advantage of them and they hatch a plan to ruin his business and make him go home. They don’t know that Mr. Chesney has other reasons to keep his hold on their world.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is an amusing satire that makes fun of itself the whole way through but, at the same time, it’s also a delightful fantasy adventure in its own right. The rural setting is picturesque and the characters are charming, especially some of Derk’s engineered creatures. The plot moves quickly and it’s got plenty of action, suspense, and twists.

Dark Lord of Derkholm may be marketed as a young adult novel, but all ages will love it. The story finishes satisfactorily but, if you want to spend more time with Derk’s griffins, read Year of the Griffin, too.

Tantor Audio has recently produced both Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin in audio format. I loved Gildart Jackson’s dramatic narration of Dark Lord of Derkholm. It really highlighted the satirical nature of the work. If you’re going to read Dark Lord of Derkholm (and you should), I recommend the audio version.

Published in 1998. Mr. Chesney operates Pilgrim Parties, a tour group that takes paying participants into an outer realm where the inhabitants play frightening and foreboding roles. The time has come to end the staged madness . . . but can it really be stopped? Master storyteller Diana Wynne Jones serves up twists and turns, introduces Querida, Derk, Blade, and Shona and a remarkable cast of wizards, soldiers, kings, dragons, and griffins, and mixes in a lively dash of humor. With all the ingredients of high fantasy, this unforgettable novel will delight fans old and new.

diana wynne jones derkholm review dark lord of derkholmdiana wynne jones derkholm review year of the griffin


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. This looks like lots of fun, and has a bit of a Terry Pratchett vibe to it.

  2. This DOES look like fun, but that describes nearly every DWJ book I’ve heard of or read, so I’m not surprised. :)

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