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on 30 July 2014
Excellent - thanks
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on 21 October 2013
Absolute classic. Delightful and engaging. A quirky twist on the fantasy genre with Diana Wynne Jones' typically well observed and slightly dysfunctional family at the heart. Jolly good fun.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 August 2013
The Dark Lord of Derkholm can be considered a companion novel to Wynne Jones' hilarious Rough-Guide style parody of the conventions of fantasy writing. In the 'Tough Guide to Fantasyland', she poked gentle fun at the tropes and inconsistencies in the genre, by writing a supposed 'tour guide' for those brave souls who choose to 'tour' fantasyland - which usually involves stew, cloaks, swords, and an eventual defeat of the Dark Lord. However despite being based on a parody, and being very funny at times, this is at heart a classic Wynne Jones fantasy adventure, that celebrates the genre far more than it mocks it. Who cares if the geography of fantasyland could never realistically support life when the stories are this good?

The central concept is a brilliant one. A world with magic and medieval technology - instantly recognisable from every high fantasy novel you've ever read - is being devastated by hordes of tourists from another world, all expecting their quota of battles, manifestations of Gods, dragons, elf encounters, and so on. In order to put the tourists off, the fantasylanders appoint the bumbling, amiable wizard Derk to be that year's 'Dark Lord'; responsible for organising the 'tour' events. What follows is surprisingly exciting and moving, as well as funny. It's a well paced novel, full of incident and never dull. One of Wynne Jones' greatest skills is in creating characters you really care about, and this novel is no exception. Derk and his children are all instantly likeable and the reader will empathise with them throughout. There is the occasional darker note in this story as well.

I loved all the details of how the tours were organised - the 'battling armies' meeting together to plan their engagements, the Dark Lord transforming his cosy family home into a 'dark citadel', the desperate attempts of Derk's family to create 'leathery winged avians' out of kites. As you'd expect from a novel typifying the genre, it has a bit of everything - elves, wizards, dwarves, dragons, thieves, bandits, demons, Gods, griffins, winged horses, gladiators, impoverished peasants... The plot is clever and has a few twists, and the ending isn't entirely as you'd expect. Wynne Jones is good at bringing multiple storyline strands together neatly at the end - sometimes a bit too neatly, it could be argued. But there is nothing saccharine in her books, there is always a dark undercurrent, even in this story. But there's no denying her books have heart and soul, because of the characters she creates.

If you've been put off thinking that this is a parody, don't be. It's a must read novel for anyone who enjoys fantasy novels.
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on 6 July 2012
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 poked fun at outworn fantasy tropes, while 'Derkholm' is set in a fantasy world - which, of course, is simply everyday to its 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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on 11 January 1999
This is, in many ways an appropriate sequel to the "Tough Guide to Fantasyland", but as a proper narrative it is much more satisfying. Once again we see DWJ's interest in parallel worlds and universes, and the dangers of interference by the self-centred. Again, personal responsibility and growth are at the centre of her stories - and it isn't only the children in the story who learn! I did slightly feel the appearance of the gods at the end was too literally a deus (or dei?) ex machina - but no more so than the appearances of Chrestomanci in other books. Indeed, I was rather hoping he would be the one to give Mr Chesney his well-deserved reard. Perhaps one day....
I had to agree to read the book within 48 hours (even though *I* bought and paid for it!) as I had an eager 11-year-old desperate to read a new DWJ book. And her response (she read it in rather less than 48 hours) - "It's even better than "Charmed Life"! " Now if that isn't praise.....
This is by one of the best writers for young people currently working. It is up to her usual standard. What more need be said?
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on 31 March 2001
In a magical world the citizens are being used by a person with a demon to run an amusement park. The peope of this town have to work for months every year just to have their homes destroyed once again. Know they are going to fight back and the one person that doesn't know it is Derk, the unlucky man chosen to be the Dark Lord this year.If you think of everything that can go wrong in this hilarious story add about another 5 to that list and it still won't be complete. Once I picked up this book I couldn't put it down and was very put-down when the book was finished. If you thing Harry Potter is good try this book and then thing again.
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on 10 April 2001
Sits in the 'cheerful' camp with the Chrestomanci stories (as opposed to Time of the Ghost, Fire & Hemlock, etc). It does start a bit slowly, but builds up to an impressive climax. The central concept is very funny, with a whole world full of people having to organise 'fantasy tours' for offworld tourists, and is cleverly put together. I really enjoyed it, and Year of the Griffin which follows on from it is also very good.
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on 22 May 2004
I actually read "Year of the Griffin" first and although I still enjoyed it, I did get a bit confused! So when I found out it was actually a sequal I jumped at the first opportunity to buy the "Dark Lord of Derkholm". After reading the second book, I had very high expectations - and not only where they met, they were surpassed! This is a marvellous take on a fantasy novel, with many twists and turns and a truly original story line. You never know where it is going and some characters just make you want to kill them!
One of the things I like most about Dianne Wynne Jones is how she always manages to put a little bit of the 'real' world into all her stories, no matter the situation. I think this story comicly parodies our own typical expectations of what we assume about a fantasy novel and clearly shows that's not always the case. The characters are funny, well thought through and a delight to read it.
What? You're still here? READ IT ALREADY!
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on 27 December 2000
Can someone who liked this book please explain to me why? I keep thinking there must be something I'm missing, because usually Diana Wynne Jones is so good. Let me say straight off that I'm a real fan and have been for ten years, and I don't diss anything gratuitously. But I want to agree with the earlier person who said that this book is awful. Sure, the concept is intriguing - I've heard this described as "the novel of the Tough Guide" and that pretty much sums it up - but the sense of a good plot and of deeply engaging with characters that marks all her novels up to and including Deep Secret is missing here. She seems to start so many stories in this book, but never gives most of them a chance to get going. Fifty pages from the end I was thinking it was about time she started tying all the loose ends up. Twenty pages from the end I finally admitted to myself that she'd bungled. She wasn't going to make it, and she didn't. I can't think what went wrong, but I think this book should never have been published. I'm only giving it the second star in memory of her earlier, much better books. Please, if this book has been anyone's first introduction to Diana Wynne Jones, get one of her earlier books and give her another chance.
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on 27 May 2001
The Tough Guide To Fantasyland was created when Diana, confined to hospital, read an outline for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and decided that a satire was in order. That worked well; making a novel out of its running gags was brave, but succeeds brilliantly, with some fine charcterisation and a wicked willingness to send up the authorial ham-fistedness that marks so much modern fantasy. Comparable to Pratchett at his best.
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