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The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Description from book
Click here for larger picture Click here for larger picture The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a comprehensive guide for those undertaking Tours of Fantasyland.  This authoritative A-Z constitutes an essential source of information for all who dare to venture into these imaginative hinterlands, providing acute insights into such mysteries as how HORSES reproduce, the varying types of VIRGIN and the importance of CLOAKS to those embarking on the Tour.  Features include:

  • A map.
  • Lively background on the denizens you will meet, including Barbarian Hordes, and Elves who claim they did not evolve like humans... Certainly there seems to be no Elvish ancestral ape.
  • Full details on catering arrangements:  Beer always foams and is invariably delivered in tankards.  The Management is not concerned with the taste of it.  That is your funeral.
  • Useful hints on coping in Fantasyland: Armour is, in the opinion of the Management, cheating.  Torture is obligatory at some stage in the Tour.

Whether you're a first-time visitor or a committed Fantasyland traveller, The Tough Guide has everything you need to get the most from your Tour.

Dark Lord of Derkholm

Review by Jane (
Click here for larger picture Click here for larger picture Millennium (Victor Gollancz) pb, 2000We loved it! A straightforward story, it's a lot easier to follow than, say, "Time of the Ghost". Lively and appealing characters, with the usual very believable sibling interactions. I loved the idea of a world having to conform to fantasy tour customer's expectations, and the problems of arranging for all their scheduled adventures.

Description from book
What does it feel like to have your world devastated once a year by offworld tourists?
Not good. Querida, High Chancellor of the wizards' university, has received more than a million letters from wizards, farmers, soldiers,elves, dragons and kings, all begging her to put a stop to Mr Chesney's Pilgrim Parties. But Mr Chesney has his orders enforced by a powerful demon. Querida takes a priest, a thief and another wizard to consult the Oracles. The first person you see, they are told, must be this year's DarkLord and the second person must be Wizard Guide to the last tour. And the first two people they see are Wizard Derk and his son Blade.

What does it feel like to suddenly have to be Dark Lord?
Dreadful. Wizard Derk, who has spent much of his life peacefully breeding griffins, winged horses, flying pigs, nylon plants and intelligent geese,is horrified to find out he has to rebuild his house as an evil fortress and knock down the nearby village because Mr Chesney wants him to. He is even more upset when Mr Chesney orders Derk's wife Mara to become this year's Evil Enchantress.

What does it feel like when most of your brothers and sisters are griffins?
Interesting. Blade and Shona, Derk's human children, share their home with five griffins. Two of them are enormous and Kit, who is the biggest of them all, has a somewhat uncertain temper. But when Derk has an accident with a dragon, all his children, human and griffin, are forced to do the Dark Lord's work for their father. Things do not go well.

What does it feel like to be Wizard Guide to a Pilgrim Party?
Frantic. When Blade at last gets to conduct his party of offworld people around the continent, he is almost glad when Shona decides to come too. Even so, things go from bad to worse, until it seems unlikely that even Querida can help.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is the winner of the 1999 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature.

Also reviewed in fanzine.

Year of the Griffin

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DWJ goes to university in this fast and fun fantasy. Although set in the same world as Dark Lord of Derkholm, it's not a sequel as such. So, while it adds to your enjoyment if you have read the first book, it's not essential.

Eight years on from Dark Lord, Year of the Griffin follows Elda, the youngest griffin daughter of wizards Derk and Mara, as she goes to the Wizards' University, much against Derk's will. The book starts by saying that "Nothing was going right with the Wizards' University." For the rest of that year, nothing goes as expected. The other students in Elda's group also have reasons for trying to keep their studies secret, so when Corkoran, the cash-strapped, single-minded university chairman, writes begging letters to the students' families, the university faces its most eventful year ever.

Assassins, pirates, greedy dwarfs and an army are just some of the visitors who disrupt classes. Then there's the griffin gang who try to terrorise Elda and her friends. On top of that, the students have to cope with jinxes, their magical inexperience, and incompetent - if not outright barking mad - teachers.

Comedy flows like an undercurrent throughout this book. For example, Ruskin the dwarf's explanation of why he is at university: "Dwarf, artisan tribe, from Central Peaks fastness, come by the virtual manumission of apostolic strength to train on behalf of the lower orders." Confused? So was Corkoran. Rather than building up to comic highlights, the sense of humour is ever-present. It's as if DWJ is enjoying herself greatly, gently poking fun - less at people than at the situations they cause. Corkoran, unwisely obsessed with getting to the moon, is as crazy as he is funny. But his habits and behaviour lead to lots of entertaining scenes. Even the assassins give rise to several funny situations. And, all too rare in comic fantasies, this book does not rely on plain silliness for its humour.

Although I wouldn't call this a rites of passage book, the young students have a lot of growing to do as they face the great pleasures of university as well as some potentially very nasty problems. It becomes clearer and clearer that, just as in Dark Lord of Derkholm, a great many of the so-called adults need to grow up as well. Learning is not just for the young.

As with all DWJ books, the pace is fast and furious. You can't put the book down, because each turn of the page leads into a new stage of the story. You need to pay attention: strands weave in and out of each other at intervals. And, as always, there's a satisfactory resolution at the end. It's great entertainment, and sheer good fun. I loved Dark Lord, and I love Year of the Griffin. In this series, DWJ has hit on the potential for many more great stories. I hope to see more books set on this world. (Meredith)


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