Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373
In Dark Lord of Derkholm, Diana Wynne Jones sets up the premise that people from a world like ours can sign up to take an adventure tour in a magical otherworld— but she tells the story from the point of view of the other world's inhabitants. The result is what might be termed a living enactment of a fantasy role-playing game. The world's inhabitants would like to put a stop to the tours, but Mr. Chesney, the all-powerful tour manager, is under the protection of a demon and cannot be gotten rid of.
For each annual tour, natives of the otherworld are forced to take on fantasy roles such as the Evil King and the Dark Lord for the pleasure of the tourists. In the process, they might have to engage in battles with dragons or have their lands despoiled by rival armies. Being chosen Dark Lord for the year is thus more of a burden than an honor.
The choice for this year's tour falls on Derk, a peaceful breeder of magical animals. His son Blade is chosen as the Wizard Guide. The other members of Derk's eccentric family, including his wife Mara (herself a powerful enchantress), his daughter Shona, and several talking griffins, pitch in to help. Almost immediately, Derk is injured in a confrontation with a formidable dragon, Scales, and the family has to cover up for Derk's absence and essentially act as a group understudy.
The body of the story deals, from several viewpoints, with what happens on this year's tour. The account is told in a matter-of-fact manner, liberally laced with humor, rather than in a mystical or monumental high fantasy style. The story is resolved with several surprise twists, and few characters are taken more by surprise than Mr. Chesney himself.
Dark Lord of Derkholm is an involved book with a large cast of characters and an intricate plot. The story is especially likely to appeal to readers who enjoy a complex and detailed s etup. The reader who keeps track of the many paths of action in this book will be rewarded with a satisfying conclusion. This is not a book to read quickly or shallowly, but Jones's mastery of the fantasy form keeps everything believable.
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