Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Dark Lord of Derkholm

Go To

A Young Adult fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, set in the world described in her meta-fictional book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Except Fantasy Land is not quite what you'd expect; it is not, in fact, a perpetually medieval world of Black-and-White Morality, but is instead ruled with an iron fist by Mr Chesney, a businessman who runs tours for very rich people from our world.

After years of oppression, the various rulers, high priests and wizards of the world get together to decide what to do, and visit the two oracles, where they learn that they must appoint the next two people they see as Dark Lord and Wizard Guide for the upcoming tour in order to be rid of Mr Chesney forever.

Unfortunately, though, the next two people they see are the Wizard Derk, who is middle-aged, friendly, and very good at what he does (which happens to be blending genetic engineering with magic to create hybrid animals), and his fourteen-year-old son, Blade.

Hijinks Ensue.

It has a sequel called Year of the Griffin, which, in typical Wynne Jones style, is a little disconnected from the original. It follows one of Derk's children, Elda, as she attends university for the first time.

Tropes featured in both works include:

  • All Witches Have Cats: Querida, the most powerful witch on the continent, owns three cats.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Derk's children. Never get on the wrong side of a pissed off griffin.
  • Cold Iron: Iron is much harder to work magic on than other substances, and untrained wizards can't use magic while in contact with iron.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Elda knows that her fluffy golden feathers and kittenish demeanor are powerful weapons.
  • Dragon Hoard: Dragons hoard gold because they need its nutrients, which they absorb by sleeping on nests of treasure.
  • Fantastic Science: Derk's forte.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Kit isn't short for Christopher, it's short for Kitten. When he was hatched, he was so small that Derk and Mara called him their little kitten.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Callette is one of these... and she's a griffin.
  • Genius Bruiser: Kit, a large and powerful griffin and a talented magic user with a knack for planning and logistics.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Seven in the first book, nine in the second.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Emperor Titus' kindness to animals marks him as a good guy early on.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Elda loves fresh fruit—oranges especially.
  • Truly Single Parent: Only two of Derk's seven children nine in the sequel were born in the natural way. The others were created by him in his magical lab. However, he does use DNA from his wife and himself in the other children, so they're still "related" to both their parents. This despite being griffins (the human DNA provides the brainpower, the body comes from the eagle and lion DNA; Elda also has some cat thrown in to make her not as huge as her siblings).

Tropes featured in Dark Lord of Derkholm include:

  • Amusing Injuries: Averted early in the book where Querida gets run over by Derk's animals. In what would likely be an Amusing Injuries situation in most works, they instead have her suffering multiple broken bones that lead to her being in a magical coma for a significant portion of the book. In contrast, when Reville gets trampled by horses later, he suffers nothing more than a few painful bruises, though unlike Querida he's a fit and incredibly agile man who could conceivably have dodged a few hooves.
  • The Atoner: Querida, after she realizes that she has caused actual harm to Derk and his family.
  • Attempted Rape: It's unclear how far it goes. Shona is at the very least molested by an entire gang of soldiers. Scales magically helps her cope, but she can never entirely forget.
  • Automaton Horses: Averted. Quite a lot of attention is paid to how horses need rest and Blade in particular ignores several important dignitaries to tend to Barnabas' horse after he finds Barnabas passed out drunk.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Since he doesn't want to use the actual magical crown to be mind-controlled (since it misfired on his predecessor and left him a drooling mess) one of the southern rulers must pretend, as part of the plot of the Tour, that he is secretly being mind-controlled by the Dark Lord. His interpretation of this involves walking around like a zombie and speaking all his lines in a monotone.
  • The Baroness: Querida is the Rosa Klebb type.
  • Batman Gambit: Inverted, of all the crazy things. Derk is genuinely clueless. However, everyone around him hopes his cluelessness will convince the odious fellow abusing their world to leave them alone, and so they try to help him be more clueless than usual. Naturally, this is the exact time Derk decides to get competent, and kicks the bad guy out by doing the exact opposite of what everyone thought he'd do.
  • Big Bad: Derk parodies the usual fantasy versions of this, but the major example is Mr. Chesney. A criminal kingpin, a cruel tyrant, and a cold opportunist, he is the source of most of the problems in Derk's world and many problems in his own.
  • Brainless Beauty: Geoffrey's sister Sukey. Or so it seems. She's actually just as shrewd as her brother; she plays the part well, though.
  • Cats Are Magic: Derk's cats, which he bred to be invisible, are also inexplicably unable to be trapped for long, they always find their way out, even from magical barriers.
  • Chew Toy: Derk. In school, he was ridiculed and belittled by his teachers, including Querida, who goes on to make his life all kinds of hell afterward. She constantly schemes to kidnap or otherwise steal away his own children for her magical vaults, she enchants his wife so she thinks she wants to leave him, and she constantly undermines all his efforts to do the damn job she forced him into! On top of all this, in the course of the novel his house is demolished, he's almost killed by a dragon who mistakes him for the actual Big Bad, his family falls apart, and his son is murdered before his eyes.
  • Cue the Flying Pigs: An elf king hopes Mr. Chesney will eventually free his son. His other son says "Yea, and that day will come when pigs do fly." Sarcastic, yes, but a prophecy is a prophecy. As it happens, the protagonist, Derk, breeds flying pigs...
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Derk. He's incredibly brilliant and so awkward, clueless, and spacy, everyone expects him to fail spectacularly as Dark Lord.
  • Cool Horse: Beauty and her foal Pretty, Derk's winged horses, are so cool that the elf Prince is willing to pay a year of servitude for.
  • Creating Life Is Awesome: The titular wizard creates new life forms all the time, including griffins and winged humans. Some of them contain his own DNA and are treated as family members. Although this creates some unusual parent-child tensions, his creative work is treated as a positive thing on the whole.
    • This story also subverts Creating Life Is Bad, by having various characters wrongly believe the protagonist to be evil.
  • Death Glare: Querida has one.
  • Designated Villain: In-Universe. Derk is literally one of these, as the role of Dark Lord is assigned every year before the tours start.
  • Disney Villain Death: Derk runs out of interesting ways to die and resorts to just making an evil speech while waiting for the tourists to realize that he's been standing directly in front of a bottomless pit the entire time.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Mr Chesney has a demon that he keeps trapped in a small glass globe and uses as an attack dog and enforcer. Not only does it turn on him, he is eventually subjected to the same treatment.
  • Dungeon Maintenance: On a far greater scale than usual. It's basically ruining their entire world.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Sukey, Mr. Chesney's daughter might be a spoiled Mafia Princess, but she does love her stepbrother, and is disgusted with her father for attempting to arrange an Inheritance Murder on her behalf.
  • Evil Vizier: It's very subtle, but it's implied the Grand Vizier of the Emirate acts this role for the Tours.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Barnabas is killed by Tripos at the end of the book and it's not pretty; though not particularly gory, it's clearly suggested that it's quite painful.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Derk has a natural affinity for animals.
  • Genius Bruiser: Scales, who is an extremely powerful and massive dragon and a skilled and wise wizard on top.
  • Gentleman Thief: Reville is both a supreme master of his craft, and quite the well-bred gentleman. Thanks to his position as the hereditary head of the Thieves' Guild, he is also the wealthiest person in the world.
  • God Was My Copilot: Blade eventually wonders why the gods aren't doing anything to help with the problem, unaware that the fisherman who helped him was actually the god Anscher all along.
  • Heroic BSoD: Derk after he believes Kit is dead.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Once his organization crumbles and his plans unravel, the gods put Chesney in a tiny crystal sphere for a very long time, just as he once enslaved the demon.
  • Inheritance Murder: The tours actually arrange these for paying family members back home, which has the useful side effect of driving up the tension. Chesney himself tries to arrange one for Geoffery, his stepson, so that his biological daughter can get all their wealth.
  • Killer Rabbit: Derk's flock of sheep was accidentally bred to be carnivorous, and is frightening enough to keep hardened criminals in line.
  • King Incognito: Scales is actually Deucalion, king of the dragons, while Reville is actually the hereditary head of the Thieves' Guild and the blue demon is Tripos, king of the demons.
  • Knight Templar: Querida's only priority is to rid the world of Mr. Chesney. The gods acknowledge her basic intentions by giving her the task of finishing the job.
  • Love at First Sight: Geoffrey and Shona.
  • Mafia Princess: Sukey is a spoiled girl, and her father is Mr. Chesney himself, but, appearances aside, she did inherit much of his shrewdness without all of his cruelty. After falling for and getting engaged to Reville, the hereditary head of the Theives' Guild, she's well on her way to becoming a Mafia Queen.
  • Medieval Stasis: Subverted. While the denizens of Derk's world have to make their world look permanently medieval for the tourists, they actually have many kinds of technology. Some houses in the nearby village have electricity, to Mr. Chesney's chagrin. Also, modern technology is being smuggled in—Derk's children think their new GameBoys are amazing.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Querida. She is one of the good guys, but some of her actions—like trying to kidnap Callette for a pet, and her abusive attitude toward Derk, make her downright despicable at times.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Querida, on realizing that her manipulations of Derk and Mara may have threatened their marriage, and certainly endangered their children.
  • Offing the Offspring: Chesney to his step-son.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Rather than The Legions of Hell, demons are bizarre, powerful creatures from outside normal reality. Chesney uses one as his enforcer. They're not necessarily evil though: the only other one in the story just wants to free its "mate," and after the gods punish him, they zip away without hurting anyone.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Although they, too, have to pretend to be the same for the sake of the tourists. Turns out, the real reason dragons hoard gold is because they get "vital vitamins" from sitting on it.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The most prominent elf character is a Proud Warrior Race Guy, and quite decent. The rest probably the same, but they don't get as much attention as he does. They do make you feel like you suck after they leave, but they don't actually say anything about it — it just seems to come naturally to them.
  • Our Gods Are Different: A whole pantheon of them shows up towards the end, in a variety of shapes and sizes for various sapient creatures. Turns out what they wanted most was for the people of their world to stand up for themselves instead of doing whatever their tyrannical master said.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Throughout the book, the hero, Derk, attempts to figure out what to make his next project. He spends a lot of it mulling over making mermaids in the hopes that collaborating to carry and raise a mermaid child will help bring him and his wife closer together.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Think Sukey is just a Brainless Beauty? Think again. In fact, most of Blade's tour group is working for some government agency or another.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The elf prince Talithan, and Scales. Talithan is at one point highly upset because the city he was going to sack didn't have any people in it.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Derk is perhaps the ultimate example. He isn't even evil. He has to play the Dark Lord because his boss sucks.
  • Red Shirt: Invoked, and Played for Drama. Any given "tour" usually contains a few "Expendables," people Chesney was paid extra not to have come back, usually by relatives out to inherit their money. Their deaths also usually ratchet up the dramatic tension for the tour group. Geoffery's on the list because Chesney only wants Sukey to inherit his wealth.
  • Star-Spangled Spandex: Derk's original cape as Dark Lord has a lining made of a miniature universe.
  • Stripperiffic: Mara's Glamorous Enchantress costumes—when Blade and Shona's group arrive at her manor, she has to scramble to find one that at least has a top half.
  • Supreme Chef: Lydda is the only griffin who really likes cooked food—in fact, she's a master of it. Her meals are repeatedly described as godlike.
  • Sweet Sheep: Defied. Derk's sheep are his most vicious creations, ravenous and barely-tame carnivores that the family uses as borderline attack animals.
  • Uplifted Animal: Derk's specialty is designing magical animals, which are usually intelligent, if not outright sapient.
  • Trading Bars for Stripes: Inverted. In order to give the Dark Lord an expendable supply of soldiers no one will miss, Chesney imports a lot of dangerous prisoners from his own world. Derk's family struggles to keep them in line, mostly with the threat of the flocks of carnivorous sheep, and a gang of them sexually assaults Shona during a storm when command breaks down and the family is scattered around.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The later half of the book ping-pongs between the adventures of Derk and those of his children, Blade, Shona, and Kit, as they lead a party through the "game."
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Everyone wonders how Derk managed to score a babe like Mara.
  • Winged Humanoid: What Derk decides to make at the end of the book. We see these two children in the sequel.

Tropes featured in Year of the Griffin include:

  • Anti-Magic: The "throwback" griffins from another continent, who are, to put it politely, total assholes, but their savage nature makes them all-but immune to magic. Kit and Blade quickly prove that that doesn't mean they're immune to the effects of magic, such as causing the ground under them to explode, and when they make the mistake of picking on Querida, she throws a little effort behind one of her spells and turns them all to stone.
  • Ascended Extra: Corkoran in the sequel. One-off in the original book; main teacher in the sequel.
  • Assassin Outclassin': The seven assassins sent by the Emir of Ampersand fail resoundingly to kill Felim, thanks to the extensive protective spells and even more extensive traps that he and his friends set up before they got there.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Kit and Blade running off the primal griffins from Callette and Elda.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Titus to Claudia. He adores her, and threatening her well-being is pretty much the only way make him really, truly mad. When he learns that the Senate has plotted to murder her, he throws the lot of them in jail, declares martial law, and rushes off to make sure she's all right.
  • Brainless Beauty: Nicely subverted with Melissa.
  • Cain and Abel: The Emir, who has sent assassins to kill Felim, turns out to be his older brother. The strange thing is that, while they seem to spend a lot of time yelling at each other, they're actually fond of each other; The Emir actually wants Felim to be his heir, he just felt honor-bound to go through with the threats he made in a moment of rage.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Happens all through the the students' tuition letters reach their homes. Olga has the most notable example.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The spells that Elda and her friends inflict on the would-be assassins are quite... unusual. They involve turning them into roosters, ash, and... making them drown in pits full of orange juice.
  • Pirates vs Ninjas: When Olga's father and his crew (pirates) encounter the Ampersandian assassins (ninjas). They team up.
  • Demoted to Extra: Don, the most normal and least quirky of Derk's griffin children, hardly appears in this book, on account of spending most of it on another continent.
  • Determinator: The assassins continue with their assignment to kill Felim, no matter how fierce or simply bizarre the obstacles arrayed against them.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Both Claudia and Lukin have to have it in order to straighten out their jinxes.
  • Forced Transformation:
    • Elda turns the pirates that came for Olga into mice, who are later caged.
    • Wermacht accidentally turns himself into a footstool when Flury says he is responsible for the furniture following Claudia.
  • Freudian Excuse: For Corkoran. He was kicked out of his home at age fifteen, and the University is the only home he has.
  • Honor Before Reason: Felim has a mild case of this- he often feels compelled to do things by his honor, but his friends talk him into sensible behavior when necessary.
  • Love at First Sight: Rather a lot of it, with Lydda and her new husband, Blade and Claudia, Titus and Isodel, seemingly Lukin and Olga, and Flury and Elda.
  • Mouse Trap: After Elda turns the pirates into mice, every student in the school gets busy trying to design one.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Olga. She gets everyone else addicted to coffee too, as befits a bunch of college students.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: After his lab gets destroyed, the students and Kit try to help Corkoran by doing a transportation spell to the moon. Due to Claudia and Lukin's travel jinxes, however, they end up on Mars.
  • No Kill like Overkill: Elda and her friends engage in defensive overkill to protect Felim from assassins.
  • The Nondescript: Flury goes to some trouble to be this way.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Flury doesn't go out of his way to show it but he's actually one of the strongest wizards in the world.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Kit and Blade have been busy adventuring in the meanwhile. Aside from a brief mention of serving in the war, this is not brought up at all.
  • Our Founder: Subverted. The statue of the wizard Policant actually turns out to be Policant, who apparently turned himself into a statue as part of a prophecy, to be revived in the titular Year of the Griffin.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Despite his full beard, the dwarf is about twelve years old (in human terms; he's actually thirty-something) and embarrassingly pubescent. He's also a political revolutionary.
  • Parent ex Machina: Not literally; but the return of Querida and the older wizards to the University plays with this.
  • Promotion to Parent: This is the backstory of Lukin; it caused him great frustration when his father came back and tried to treat him like a child again.
  • Put on a Bus: Shona, although Elda does mention her towards the beginning.
  • Sibling Team: Kit and Blade work as one.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: In the sequel, everyone is surprised when seeming Brainless Beauty Melissa sticks up for Olga against her horrifying misogynist father. She brings up how everyone thinks that just because she's pretty, she can't be a good wizard.
  • Spell Book: The six students' main way of learning magic, since so many of their tutors are incompetent.
  • Stealth Pun: The Emir's kingdom, Ampersand.
  • Two-Teacher School: Not quite, but almost. There are about five teachers mentioned, but only two of them seem to have a role in teaching the six main characters- Corkoran (their tutor, who also gives lectures to them) and Wermacht (who teaches almost all the first-year classes). Neither is terribly competent. (One character mentions attending Myrna's lectures as well, but this comes up only once.) This is actually something of a plot point. When Chesney's reign ended all of the senior wizards took the opportunity to retire, leaving the school with a Skeleton Government.
  • Volleying Insults: In marked contrast to his behavior in the rest of the book, Felim engages in this with his brother the Emir.
  • Wizarding School: Wizards University.
  • Writer on Board: Olga's horribly misogynistic father, and the backlash against him. However, while it does make a very clear point about sexism, it does also help build sympathy for Olga.

Alternative Title(s): Year Of The Griffin