Rating: 8 out of 10
Imagine a vacation through a fantasy world, where you and your fellow tourists are led through a magical land by a Wizard Guide, one who can actually do magic and has a great long beard, as all wizards are supposed to. On the way, you get to meet bloodthirsty pirates, listen to wisdom from great Dragons, fight an Epic Battle, get attacked by Winged Minions, encounter a Glamorous Enchantress, and finally meet and defeat the terrible Dark Lord! At the end of your tour, you can travel through a portal back to your own universe of cars, technology, and jobs. Sounds fun, right?
Mr. Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties bring people from our own world into an alternate universe where they can experience the traditional trappings of Fantasy. However, it’s all just a great act.
Derk is a wizard–but he’s not a very good one by your traditional definitions. Not great at conjuring illusions are doing normal wizardly stuff–but he’s good at magical genetic engineering, and he has 7 children with his wife, a witch named Mara. Two are human, and five of them are griffins. Unfortunately for Derk, this year he has been chosen to play the part of the Dark Lord, and according to the rules set by Mr. Chesney, he must raise a devestating Army of Evil (who are actually bespelled criminals donated by the country of England), turn his cozy house into a Dark Citadel, and summon an evil demon, all for the entertainment of the tourists. His human son, Blade, has been chosen to be a Wizard Guide, and his wife to be the Glamorous Enchantress. Everyone must play their parts, or risk the wrath of Mr. Chesney.
The Pilgrim Party tours are devestating to Derk’s world–farmland is trampled, villages are destroyed, and for some odd reason all of the magic in his universe is steadily draining away. Everybody hates Mr. Chesney, but no one can do anything about it because he is backed by a great and powerful demon.
Derk and his family must try to complete their tasks and at the same time find a way out of this horrible mess. Unfortunately Derk is laid out in a coma after a nasty encounter with a fire-breathing dragon, and his kids must shoulder the burden of the Dark Lord’s job.
I thought this was when it got most interesting. I highly enjoyed it when Jones began writing about Derk’s human and griffin children, running around trying to plan an Epic Battle against the Forces of Good (who are outnumbered, but still required to win according to the Mr. Chesney’s rules). There was a lot of understated humor and each of the chidlren has their own distinct personality. Shona, the eldest, is incredibly bossy and wants to become a Bard and play music for the rest of her life. Kit is a black griffin, arrogant, aggressive, and really enjoys planning the Epic Battle. Blade, Derk’s human son, runs around trying to keep everything together–he’s in his mid-teens I guess, and has to grow a beard for his job as Wizard Guide. Good thing he has magic to accomplish this for him. Callette is creative and techy, Lydda loves to cook , and Elda is the baby.
The Dark Lord of Derkholm is a re-read for me, part of my DWJ binge, and has a pseudo-sequel, Year of the Griffin, which focuses mostly on Elda 8 years after the events of Derkholm. I also plan on re-reading that soon, I faintly remember that I liked it more than Derkhom, which is saying a lot because I quite enjoyed this one. It’s hard to explain why I like Diana Wynne Jones’ writing so much–its just the way everything happens, and then comes together in the end. It’s funny and original and you don’t read anything like it anywhere else.