2009 Summer Reading #1

In a manner completely typical of me, my first completed read of the summer was not on my posted reading list. A friend lent me a copy of Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones, and I proceeded to complete it within two days, despite the partially finished copy of In Defense of Food on my nightstand. Again, typical.

Upon handing it to me, K warned, “Ignore the cover; it isn’t a straightforward fantasy novel.” (Actually, he said typical, but I didn’t want to use the same word three times in four sentences.) Well warned. Fantasy is okay, but I tend to like books that are a little more…complex isn’t exactly the right word. Let’s just say that I prefer books that aren’t predictable, and genre fiction tends to follow an easily recognized path.

Which is why I adore Terry Pratchett.

Anyway. I loved Dark Lord. It is set in a different world, as most fantasy novels are, and the main characters are magicians and bards and griffins and dragons. However, their concerns are so totally…familiar. They were easy to relate to. For example, on their first appearance, Derk and his son Blade are arguing about Blade’s desire to go to wizard school. Another character has a drinking problem. A married man is worried that his wife is going to leave him. Even the dragons have personalities I recognize.

The premise is this: for forty years, Derk’s world has served as a sort of theme park for visitors from another world. These visitors, or pilgrims, come in six-week tours orchestrated by Mr. Roland Chesney. Everyone in Derk’s world is forced to masquerade as “good” or “evil” wizards, kings, soldiers, etc. They fight wars, kidnap pilgrims, devastate lands…it’s sort of a perverse, large-scale ren faire in which people really die.

After forty years, the people of Derk’s world have had enough. They want an end to the tours. But a powerful demon enforces Mr. Chesney’s will, and no one knows how to get around THAT. In the midst of this, Derk–a wizard whose specialty is creating new plants and animals–is appointed Dark Lord. With the help of his five griffin and two human children, Derk must act as the main force of evil and ensure the tours run smoothly when no one wants them to anymore.

I loved this story because it was rich with so many well-developed characters. Omniscient with some characters, but not all..but, then, you didn’t need the omniscience to understand what the characters were thinking or feeling.

There are also a lot of insights into how people react to oppression: collaboration, cooperation, active rebellion, passive-agressive rebellion, etc. And some nice theology, which I always appreciate. And, really, who can pass up a villain whose name is only one letter off from our villainous ex-veep?

The only thing I didn’t like was how the young lovers speak to each other, because it was just so sappy. Granted, young lovers are prone to sappiness, but this was along the lines of Rose and Jack in Titanic. Gag. Fortunately, the young lovers rarely have much dialog, so it isn’t enough to ruin the story.

A second friend, mutual to K and I, asked if I liked the book. I said yes. She warned me, “Watch out. He’ll lend you the sequel. And then the third one.” In reality, there’s only one follow-up. But I wouldn’t mind reading it.

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