Review: The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diane Wynne Jones


Winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 1999. 

A humorous fantasy from Diana Wynne Jones. In a world next door to ours, the tourist industry is devastating the population by its desire to experience all the fantasy cliches – Dark Lords, impoverished villages, dragons etc. The Head of the University resolves to shut the tours down; the only problem being the ruthless tour-master – and his all-powerful demons. To save them all, the incompetent wizard Derk is appointed as Dark Lord in the hope that he will ruin the tours, and sure enough proceeds to fail at everything due to his general uselessness. But can failing at everything lead to a win this time?


I’ve never read any books by Diane Wynne Jones but knew she is a fantasy writer that is held up by many as a really wonderful writer and a master at what she does.  Harper Collins have been reissuing her books recently with new covers for a new audience and I was offered this one for review.  The cover art lured me in and the blurb plot line hooked me so I requested a copy for review and even at over 500 pages, I went in with no idea if I’d love it or loathe it.  I’m fussy when it comes to fantasy books and know they can be slow to build up, story-wise, so was slightly apprehensive about what I’d make of this one.

Derk is the Dark Lord, for this year at least.  In a parallel world, each year, Mr Chesney has his Pilgrim Party Tours arrive from our world to embark on adventure and battle elves, warriors, dragons and defeat the Dark Lord.  All for a fee.  Mr Chesney has a contract signed years ago with the ancestors of this world that they have to create a world that fits the Pilgrims imagination and it’s making them broke and angry.  They have to put on a show for over two months and play the part of evil minions or good folk to fit their needs in this elaborate game.  This book follows one year of these Pilgrim Parties and it’s the year that things begin to change and the trapped disgruntled people rise against the rules.

I found reading this book slow but enjoyable.  I didn’t ever feel then desire to stop reading and wanted to see what happened to all the MANY characters but not a huge amount happens at some points so you have to just go with the flow that the book sets for you.  I loved the creatures of the story like the winged pigs and especially Callette and Kit, the griffins that were such brilliantly crafted personalities.  The Dark Lord of Derkholm is a book full of characters and creatures but at times I wanted things to speed up or felt that some scenes could have been skipped as they didn’t aid the plot, just built up more characters.

I did enjoy this book and would be very interested to read more by Diane Wynne Jones but I think I could wait to see what I fancied.  To be honest, I enjoyed it but didn’t become engrossed in it like I had hoped.  Fans of fantasy will love it for the world-building but it may not tick everyones boxes.

Published by Harper Collins and is available here and bookshops now

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