Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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*****= An all-time favorite
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****Dark Lord of Derkholm

****Year of the Griffin

by Diana Wynne Jones

Reviewed September 23, 2001
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2001
1998 and 2000.
Available at Sembach Library (JF JON).

These books were a treat.  Absolutely delightful!  Unfortunately, I gorged myself on them--stayed up late to finish the first one, and then spent my day off reading the second.  However, I decided to chalk it up as therapy--It was good to focus on something funny and clever instead of serious and heavy for awhile.

Diana Wynne Jones is an excellent writer.  I love the clever premise of these books.  She likes to work with parallel universes.  Dark Lord of Derkholm takes place in a parallel universe filled with magic--dragons, wizards, you name it--Your typical fantasy world.  Because it is such a typical fantasy world, visitors from our world (or one very like it, with no magic) come on tours of Pilgrim Parties to experience adventure.  Of course, the tours culminate in defeating the Dark Lord.

The fantasy world is well paid to run the tours, however, it’s simply not worth it.  Every year, villages are sacked and crops are laid waste, and the money from the tour operator isn’t much good, since there’s nothing to buy.  The problem is that the tour operator has a powerful demon, putting the whole fantasy world in his power.

That’s the set-up and the clever premise.  Now, the leaders of the fantasy world go to an Oracle to figure out how to stop the tours.  The oracle tells them to appoint wizard Derk of Derkholm as this year’s Dark Lord, and his son Blade as the Wizard Guide for the last tour.  Querida, the wizard in charge, believes that Derk will mess things up, and that’s how the tours will end, but she doesn’t tell Derk, who must work hard to play his part as Dark Lord.

The focus shifts to Wizard Derk and his unusual family.  Derk likes to experiment with genetic and magic engineering.  So besides his two human children Shona and Blade, Derk has five griffin children.  He used his own cells and that of his wife to create them, so they call him Dad and act like brothers and sisters to Shona and Blade.  When Derk is put out of commission by a dragon just before the tours start, the whole family must work to try to make the tours run.  What follows is a wildly fun story filled with tension, surprises and plenty of smiles.  Derk and his family are people you can’t help but like, and the author keeps you guessing as to how it’s all going to end.

The second book, Year of the Griffin takes place eight years later.  You can read it without having read the first book, since the two plots don’t really intertwine.  Year of the Griffin is about Elda, Derk’s youngest griffin daughter.  She starts at the University to learn to be a wizard.  (Sound familiar?)  Unfortunately, the University is not doing well after years of catering to the tours.  When the school sends out letters to parents asking for money, there turn out to be unpleasant repercussions.  Several of Elda’s friends had come to the school secretly, and there are people who would rather see them dead than at the University.

What follows is again funny, clever and suspenseful.  Elda and her friends must learn magic beyond what their incompetent instructors can teach them, and end up changing the whole structure of the University.  Both of these books are tremendously fun.  I’ve decided they’d be perfect as the next family read-alouds for bedtime.  I think they would work for a wide age range.  I know I enjoyed them!

Reviews of other books by Diana Wynne Jones:
Cart and Cwidder
Drowned Ammet
The Spellcoats
The Crown of Dalemark
Conrad's Fate
Unexpected Magic
The Merlin Conspiracy
Wild Robert
The Ogre Downstairs
Witch's Business

Links to
Dark Lord of Derkholm
Year of the Griffin

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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