Dark Lord of Derkholm

by Diana Wynne Jones

Paperback, 2001



Local notes

PB Jon




Greenwillow Books (2001), Edition: 1st, 517 pages


Derk, an unconventional wizard, and his magical family become involved in a plan to put a stop to the devastating tours of their world arranged by the tyrannical Mr. Chesney.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

517 p.; 4.19 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member ed.pendragon
Anyone who is part of a large organisation will recognise the quandaries that Wizard Derk finds himself in when he is appointed Dark Lord in a real-life role-playing game. Despite his living in a world where magic is as natural as breathing, his attempts to cope with the vagaries that are thrown at
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him by an uncaring Senior Management, and which are deliberately sabotaged by Middle Managers with their own agenda, are familiar to those foot-soldiers in this our own world who are forced to cope with one emergency after another caused either by conspiracy or c*ck-up. And although crisis management is by its nature very stressful, there comes a point where you feel you have neither the energy or the inclination to carry on with you goodwill sapped and your moral compass thrashed.

The Dark Lord of Derkholm is a natural successor to The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Jones’ earlier spoof directory of all things fantastical: in fact the map in the first edition of the earlier title is a fair (if vague) rendering of the geography of Derkholm’s world, with the Dark Lord’s Citadel and the settlement of Gna’ash even appearing (though the latter is spelt Gan’ash). Reading Dark Lord with The Tough Guide open beside you underlines how well Jones plunders and subverts the conventions of this genre while simultaneously revealing both her affection for it and her sympathy for its implicit moral foundations. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, for example, was grounded in just such a balance between good and evil, with fair play bringing its just rewards; and so the fantastic fiction that followed in its footsteps nearly always kept faith with this philosophy. Dark Lord takes this philosophy as a given, even when the ‘real’ world inhabited by the evil Roland Chesney impacts on Derk’s magical world.

Jones’ serious themes of exploitation and inhumanity are nicely counterpointed by the many humorous touches, only a few of which can be alluded to here. As well as the expected elves, dwarfs, wizards, enchantresses, dragons and demons we have the genetically-engineered friendly cows, humanised griffins and flying pigs of Derk’s household to stretch the imagination. Characters’ names frequently undermine their natures: for example, Derk’s son Blade is nowhere near as bloodthirsty as his name implies, and one of the (male) dwarfs is given the (female) Tolkienesque name of Galadriel. I even suspect the names of some of the humans (and horses) mentioned may be based on Jones’ own acquaintances (certainly Tom Holt is a well-known comic fantasy writer who lived not too distant from Jones’ home town of Bristol), and, though only appearing as a place name on The Tough Guide’s map, an anagram of the port of Bristol shows how prepared Jones was to include sly references to her own situation.

Dark Lord is a rich and satisfying narrative, even if at times (particularly in the middle) it has a tendency to sag. The ending, with its deus ex machine conclusion, is one of Jones’ best, lacking the cryptic nature of many of her plot resolutions, and nicely leaves the way open for the comedic sword-and-sorcery sequel. There is a good mix of male and female characters, many very memorable (even including the griffins, whose quirks and strengths soon manifest themselves), and Year of the Griffin now beckons enticingly.
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LibraryThing member phoebesmum
One of a handful of DWJs published under an adult rather than a juvenile imprint. This could be considered a follow-up to 'The Tough Guide to Fantasyland'; that ripped the piss out of fantasy tropes, while 'Derkholm' is set in a fantasy world – which, of course, is simply everyday to its
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inhabitants – which has, for forty years, been plagued by Pilgrim Tours from the next-door world and is, as a result, suffering economically, ecologically, sociologically, and in almost every other way imaginable. The wizard Querida decides that enough is enough, and appoints wizard Derk as Dark Lord, believing he’ll make such a mess of it that the tourists will give up. Derk is a quiet man who would much rather be left alone with his genetic experiments, but he turns out to be surprisingly competent up until an encounter with a dragon puts him out of action. But there are other factors working against the tours – if they can ever all get themselves on the same page.

A delightful book, and often very funny. The odd thing about it is that Derk really ought not to be a likeable character at all, his experiments (which include growing nylon plants and breeding winged horses, friendly cows, carnivorous sheep and a giant hen) being at least borderline unethical; five of his seven children are griffins, after all – but he’s actually so lovely that one just handwaves this away. And all his animals, except perhaps the sheep, adore him.

The action gets confusing at times, and I have often wondered how the talented griffins manage to cook and craft without, one assumes, the benefit of opposable thumbs, but overall this is one of DWJ’s best.
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LibraryThing member Crowyhead
Derk is an excellent wizard, but he just wants to be left alone with his experiments. No such luck -- he's been appointed the Dark Lord this year so that Mr. Chesney's Pilgrim Tours (tourists from another world much like ours) will have an archenemy to fight. None of the denizens of Derk's world
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like the tours, because they're expensive and disruptive, and every year people are killed and crops are spoiled due to the wars staged for the Pilgrims. Mr. Chesney, however, has a pet demon, and it doesn't do to cross him. So Derk, his wife, Shona and Blade (his two human children), and his five griffin children (they're magically-genetically engineered, and are very much part of the family) must work to transform their homestead into a Dark Fortress and pool their talents to carry off the illusion the Derk is a formidable opponent. This is all hard enough, but when Derk is injured in an unfortunate encounter with a dragon, his kids have to take on the majority of the organizing. Chaos, of course, ensues.

What I really enjoyed about this was that it's absolutely hilarious and does a great job of sending up the high fantasy genre, but the characters are also very well drawn and reading about Derk's odd family is truly a delight. I'm really looking forward to reading Year of the Griffin, the sequel.
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LibraryThing member lquilter
I laughed so hard I cried in places. A delightful send-up of stale fantasy tropes, along with characters to care about, and a satisfying come-uppance in the end. Jones had an awesome ability to throw an enormous amount of information and hilarious detail at the reader, all while threading a plot
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and character development through the whole. As a reader, I was delightfully overwhelmed, charmed, and ultimately emotionally satisfied (but, not TOO much).

Highly recommended. Especially for the carnivorous sheep and the pilgrims' horrified response to the monster flower-bed toward the end.
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LibraryThing member mybookshelf
Wizard Derk is not considered a ‘real’ wizard by many of his colleagues. The Chancellor of the University despises his areas of magical expertise, and has a fairly low opinion of his relationship with his wife, too. However, when the Oracles propose that Derk and his family are the only ones
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that can stop Mr. Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties from our world ravaging theirs, everybody, (willingly or unwillingly) pitches in to help. But whose side is everybody on?

Like many, many other fantasy stories for young people, this book follows several young wizards as they discover their magic and its limitations. The author has put a twist on this familiar plot, though, by first making all these fledgling magicians siblings of each other, and secondly by not having all of them human. They are Wizard Derk’s children, and his area of specialisation has been animals and cross-breeding.

In fact, the author has utilised and amended a great many traditional elements of the fantasy genre in this tale. Mr Chesney brings people to Derk’s world on tours, and there are things these tourists (pilgrims) expect to see: manifesting gods, a citadel surrounded by balefire, leathery-winged avians, and so on. However, these things are not necessarily easy to come by on demand, and again it is up to Derk and his family and their less-than-all-powerful magics to create suitably convincing impressions.

Derk has seven children, almost all of them young adults. Each has a distinctive personality, complete with talents, ambitions for the future, and embarrassing secrets. They can work together quite well, and indeed are forced to run the show once Derk and his wife Mara are unexpectedly otherwise occupied. Nonetheless, like all sets of siblings, they have disagreements about the best way of managing things, and different ways of coping (or not) with pressure.

One of many intriguing elements of this story is the way it handles the topic of religion. In Derk’s world there are a variety of religions, and citizens are free to make choices about their object and style of worship. However, with the expectation that a god manifest to each Pilgrim Party, and the difficulties Derk faces with this step in the proceedings, the author manages to make some interesting points about the idea of ‘the will of the gods’.

This is an excellent story, and I recommend it to readers of either gender who enjoy reading fantasy but are becoming bored with its repetitive elements. Dark Lord of Derkholm is full of unexpected takes on the familiar aspects of the genre, and also full of laughs.
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LibraryThing member maita
Mr. Chesney has enslaved the world of Wizrd Dirk for over 40 years. It is time to end it. The White and Black Oracle says only Wizrd Dirk and his family are the ones to save them.
And so everybody relied on Wizard Dirk to fail miserably so that their world would be released. On the other hand,
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Wizrd Dirk has other ideas. One of them is hitching a tent in his balcony and camping with his flying pigs while humans are trapped in their world plagued by dozens of dragons.
So funny, so entertaining and so loving it!
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LibraryThing member kgodey
I've been meaning to read more of Diana Wynne Jones' books for a while, since I really enjoyed Howl's Moving Castle.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is about a fantasy world that has essentially been turned into a theme park by the evil Mr. Chesney from what seems to be our world. Every year, Chesney's
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Pilgrim Parties, packaged tours for adventure-seeking people, devastate the world. Basically the entire economy of the world revolves around these tours, which consist of staged adventures including a battle between the Forces of Good and the Dark Lord, attacks by leathery avian creatures, bandits and pirates, a Glamorous Enchantress, treasures guarded by dragons, etc. The inhabitants of the world spend all year trying to make this happen, but resent it thoroughly. However, Mr. Chesney has a powerful demon on his side, and they do not know how to end the contract with him without risking doom.

The Wizard Derk is chosen to play the Dark Lord this year, and the book follows the adventures of him, his family (his wife, two human children and five griffin children) and his menagerie of unusual animals as they struggle to pull it off.

This book is absolutely hilarious, but also makes you feel pretty touched in places. Derk the wizard was a really fun protagonist – I thought he was going to be pretty ineffectual (as did the rest of the wizards), but he dealt with everything really well, despite all the setbacks he kept running into. I loved the unusual family that he has – humans and griffins that consider each other siblings and are treated equally. All the characters were really fleshed out and charming in their own way. This applies to the supporting characters too – Querida the High Chancellor was a lot of fun to read about (I imagine that she looks a bit like Dame Maggie Smith), and so was Scales the dragon.

I thought the concept of the book was pretty awesome, too. It allowed the author to affectionately satirise common fantasy tropes and our perceptions of them, while remaining true to the fantasy genre. I loved it the same way I loved The Princess Bride.

Howl's Moving Castle was pretty great, but after reading this, I've realised that Diana Wynne Jones definitely deserves her reputation.

Originally posted on my blog.
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LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
I really think this is one of the best works by Diana Wynne Jones - equal to the Crestomanci Series. It has quiet humor, heart twinging action scenes, lots of loving family, and of course, Gryphons. It works well for both teens and adults. Its just a good, well told story.
LibraryThing member jennorthcoast
One of the review snippets on the cover of this book states “A tour-de-force.” They got it right. Having read DWJ’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, I knew that Derkholm would be a send-off, spoofing all the clichés of high fantasy and sword-and-sorcery tomes. But it is still classic,
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brilliant DWJ, managing a complicated plot with loads of weird characters and stunning the reader with not one or two surprise twists at the end, but at least six! This is simply a really good book, and makes me appreciate the adventure of reading a high fantasy, a genre I don’t typically read. The fact that there is a sequel, Year of the Griffin, is the icing on the cake. The fact that I am staring at it right now and will begin reading it soon, is the frosting on the icing on the cake.
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LibraryThing member jenspirko
A must read for anyone who thinks Eragon is decent fantasy -- brilliant satire of tourism and imperialism, but at heart a parody of the epic fantasy cliches that she skewered so well in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
LibraryThing member lsubia
I love this book! During a period of Harry Potter withdrawal I found this book by Dianna Wynne Jones and it completely answered my craving for intelligent, well written, Tolkienesque storytelling. I'm inclined to think this is her best book, and I've pretty well read them all. (Deep Secret is my
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second favorite DWJ book.) Both of these books seem to be written with an older audience in mind. They are sophisticated, subtle, and completely engaging. Why someone hasn't tried to make a movie of this book is beyond me. Studio Ghibli, Dreamworks, and Disney, come and get it, please!
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LibraryThing member elenaj
This one was generally as delightful as it was when I read it the first time 10 or 15 years ago. The one caveat I have is that Derk seems a little less sweet and harmless and a little more of a potentially creepy mad scientist. The creating of all kinds of weird magical animals (and magical
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people/animals like griffins) seems dubious morally, especially if I think about it in real-world terms instead of fantasy world terms.

It's not a major deal, but it did occasionally throw me out of the story.
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LibraryThing member clairefun
Oh, the joy of a Diana Wynne Jones book I've never read, at age 37! Howl's Moving Castle has been my favourite book for over 20!! years and while I didn't fall in love in quite the same way (my nickname at age 12 or 13 *was* Howl), I adored this book and the feeling of family I got from it. I loved
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the concept - paid tours of fantasy land - having read plenty of 'people from earth suddenly transported to a land of magic and dragons' books but never seen it run as a profitable (to some) business and from the point of view of those acting out the fantasy clichés. Absolutely full of wonderful, well built characters (as Diana Wynne Jones is so, so good at!) and I'm not sure who I liked the most. Maybe Sc...no, Kit. Or Lydda. Ah I liked everyone. Some well done scenes that are actually horrific in their own way, but done so that a younger reader could gloss over, very clever. All in all a brilliant read and I really did mean to do something else today. My mother in law is here in an hour and I really shouldn't have sat down and read a book non stop for the last 5ish hours...but I did. I regret nothing! :D
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LibraryThing member lostinalibrary
Dark Lord of Derkholm takes place in a magical world somewhere in the vicinity of our own. A ruthless tour promoter, Roland Chesney, has turned this magical world into a kind of real-life Dungeons & Dragons theme park with all that that denotes: raging battles, enchantresses, pirates, dragons, etc.
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Every year, a new Dark Lord is chosen to oversee these tours and ensure that all works smoothly according to Chesney's plans including the occasional 'pilgrim' marked down as expendable. Thing is, though, when the world is not being forced to host these 'pilgrim parties', it's a pretty quiet place, teenaged angst seemingly the biggest problem they normally face, and the magical denizens of this land like it like that. So, this year they decide to do something. They pay a visit to the Oracle who tells them to make wizard Derk their next Dark Lord. At first, this seems like the perfect choice since most other wizards consider Derk incompetent. Turns out, though, he isn't; he just prefers his own uses of magic which include creating interesting new animals like carnivorous sheep, talking horses, delinquent geese, and flying pigs. He has also created five griffins who he considers his children along with his two human kids.

This unfortunate lack of incompetence presents a problem for the people planning Chesney's overthrow and so they make new plans. Unfortunately, poor Derk and his kids are never informed of these plans to sabotage the tours and and, as a result, all kinds of mayhem ensues.

In this novel author Diana Wynne Jones takes a humourous but gentle and fond poke at the themes of Tolkienesque fantasy, its tropes and themes as well as at RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. In its parody of many of the common fantasy images and characters, it is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and a great tongue-in-cheek romp through what is a familiar landscape to fans of the genre. It's great fun for an adult audience but, despite some death and destruction, it's not too violent for even a younger YA reader.
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LibraryThing member JohnGrant1

I'm not sure if DWJ wrote this novel ahead of her wonderful The Tough Guide to Fantasyland or after it, or if she was working on the two of them simultaneously. (She may also have been doing some writing for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy at the same time. Busy, busy.) Whatever, the two books have
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clearly influenced each other very strongly.

Mr Chesney has for long been organizing annual tours from the mundane world to the fantastical otherworld where all true template high/epic fantasy novels take place . . . or don't except when the droves of tourist parties are there, because for the rest of the year the otherworld is a relative peaceable place: it's only for the tourists' benefit that wars are fought, dragons slain, nations pillaged, etc. No one knows what hold Mr Chesney has on the Powers That Be such that no one can call a halt to this yearly devastation.

Each year a different Dark Lord must be chosen to represent the ultimate embodiment (or emspectrement, I spose) of Evil, to be the loser in the Final Battle before it's time for the tourists to toddle off back through the interdimensional portal to their mundane lives. This year it's the turn of the pacifist wizard Derk to be the Great Adversary, a chore he has to accept even though he'd rather continue practising his hobby of creating portmanteau creatures through, um, magical genetics, kind of. Luckily he has his children -- both human and otherwise -- to help him out.

I had lots of fun with this book, which is not only frequently hilarious but also constantly inventive. It reinforced my contention that Diana Wynne Jones is the thinking reader's preferred alternative to J.K. Rowling.
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LibraryThing member klp_86
A creative plot... mythical creatures trying to stop all the tourism in their realm. A long book... hard to finish.
LibraryThing member Ilirwen
What a dreadful disappointment! This book, that I'd been so looking forward to reading turned out to be so bad, I was surprised it could have been written by Diana Wynne Jones at all.

Not only wasn't it as well written as all the other books by her that I've read, I had two major reasons for my
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One: so many animals are being used and killed and eaten. Ok, so not everyone will agree with me about that, but you should. (This is my review, I'll write what I want in it!). It pretty much ruined the book from the start.

Second reason: A girl gets raped by a number of murderers/soldiers (murderers taken from prisons to be turned into soldiers of a kind) and DWJ treats that as an inconvenience, that the girl (admittedly with the help of a dragon magic worker/king) just shakes off like a migraine. I simply couldn't believe it. And then the rape is just ignored. The girl is shown being more upset about not being allowed to attend college than about being raped. She merely ruefully mentions wanting to stay away from the soldiers. I should think she'd want to. Unbelievable. (I also can't believe this gets put into a book marketed as a children's book, but well, I think I've said enough about that already.)

Now I'm really scared that this isn't just about this book, but that it's all part of a bigger problem. What if I've outgrown DWJ´s books for good? What if it's not just her books but every fantasy book? Apart from a few other things, my love for books (mainly fantasy books) is the one thing that keeps me going. My life isn't all that great and if I lose this interest what's left to me?
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
It took me a while to get into it this time, but the ending is excellent - good and sensible tying-up of all the loose ends (well, most of them...)
LibraryThing member SR510
Well, the good news is that this is an engaging page-turner. The bad news is that by the time you get to the end, you discover that the plot is a mess, and that nothing really adds up. Which is a pity. Before the final few chapters, I thought this was a much better book than it turned out to be.
LibraryThing member farnsworthk
It took a while to get into this one, but it grew on me. Good fantasy read that pulls a lot of cliches.
LibraryThing member bluesalamanders
A world of wizards and dragons and magic is being exploited by a man from another world, who uses their world as a magical fantasy tour theme park. Powerful wizards consult an Oracle to discover the means by which they can take back their world.

Then, things start getting a little out of hand.

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Lord of Derkholm is a satire of the classic epic fantasy genre. The hero's quests are faked expeditions undertaken by tourists instead of actual heroes, and when Derk and his rather unusual family are placed in charge of this year's quests, everything goes awry.

Fantastic book! Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ahandfulofconfetti
Imagine if the Earth we lived on was right next door to a planet where magic was the norm, and dragons, elves and dwarves (among other fantastical beings) lived side-by-side with the people. That's exactly the case in Dark Lord of Derkholm, and as such, a man named Mr. Chesney created the Pilgrim
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Parties in order to allow Earthlings to come and visit the world. But his specifications regarding what the Pilgrims are to see are very specific, including taking part in numerous battles, sacking and destroying cities, and killing all those "expendables" (i.e. Pilgrims whose family members want offed). As such, the Pilgrim Parties have completely devastated the world. Enter Derk, the most unassuming wizard ever, who would rather spend time creating fantastic new beasts (think winged horses and griffins) and tending to his plants than having anything to do with the Pilgrim Parties. But he's got no choice, as he's been selected to be this year's Dark Lord. And that's when everything that could go wrong does go wrong.

This is the second book I've read by Diana Wynne Jones, and while I didn't like it as much as I did Howl's Moving Castle, there were definitely some parts that made me laugh, made me sad, and made me frustrated with what was happening to Derk's world. It was amusing to watch Derk struggle with all the components of being Dark Lord, especially when so much was clearly not going to plan. I enjoyed reading about Derk's family - he has two human children and five griffin children - and the roles they played in trying to help their father. Mara made me angry [SPOILER] although obviously she had a reason for being absent, and it wasn't her fault at all [/SPOILER], as did all the people who swore they'd help Derk who either did a half-assed job of it, or just didn't do anything to help at all.

The book is told via different viewpoints, but stuck mostly with Derk or Blade, Derk's human son, who is put in charge of the final Pilgrim Party even though he's far from a qualified wizard. I enjoyed reading about Blade's adventures, and the trouble he got into, and the ways he tried to fix everything but just made things worse. I was particularly interested in his total lack of a sense of direction, which suited him okay for translocation (think Apparation, if you're a Harry Potter fan) but definitely didn't work at all for getting a Pilgrim Party across the country to their various checkpoints. In fact, I would have liked to learn more about that, because it seemed like it was distinct to Blade alone, and I would have loved to learn why he could move himself (or anyone else he's translocating) without getting lost but couldn't manage to walk people in the right direction.

There is a second book to this series, but I don't think I'm going to read it. I enjoyed reading about Derk and Blade, and the griffins, and the ways they were trying to get rid of Mr. Chesney. The twists and turns in the story line were engaging and interesting, and kept me going through a very long book (over 500 pages, and while I enjoyed the story I felt the length, if that makes sense), and I felt invested in the story and the characters. But I'm okay with being done with this world, and don't think I'll re-read this book again. It was good for a one-shot read, if you will, but isn't something I feel the need to revisit, unlike my feelings regarding Howl's Moving Castle, which I adored.
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LibraryThing member Ysabeau
My all-time-fave Diana Wynne Jones book, and since they are all good, that's really saying something. A great send-up of the tourism business, with humorous interludes mixed in with genuine horror.
LibraryThing member librisissimo
Substance: Interesting premise of a world held hostage to a promoter with a demon in his pocket (literally), where everyone wants out of the deal. Other-world "pilgrims" experience a hands-on adventure with faux Dark Lords, who are real wizards, and all the trimmings. The catch is that the dirt,
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cold, wounds, and death are real. Entertaining characters, some depth in moral dimensions; not entirely sure if there is a conclusive "moral to the story other than it is evil to play around with other people's lives for profit (or anything else).

Style: Straight-forward, some humor. A few continuity problems.
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LibraryThing member bell7
The people in this fantasy land just want the Pilgrims Parties to end. Mr. Chesney has been bringing people from our world on tours, and they're sick and tired of renaming their towns, having wizards guide them along, and choosing a Dark Lord that must be defeated. It's ruining their economy. So
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Querida, the head of the wizard University, consults the Oracles to see how to stop the tours. This makes Derk, generally good guy and hopeless wizard with a menagerie at home (including a bunch of griffins that are a part of the family) the Dark Lord for the year, and mayhem ensues.

This book was almost my first introduction to Diana Wynne Jones (I'd read Cart and Cwidder as a kid, but didn't realize at first it was the same author). I almost immediately started reading everything I could get my hands on. In this one in particular, she plays with the conventions of the fantasy genre and pokes fun, all the while telling a fun, fantastical story. Some of it is more obvious, like the journey motif of the pilgrim parties and the adventures they get leading up to attacking the Dark Lord in his citadel. Others are nods that just made me laugh like the dwarf named Galadriel. It's really brilliantly done and such a fun read. 4.5 stars.
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(583 ratings; 4.1)
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