For the last few year’s Derk’s entire world has been ravaged by Pilgrim Tours. Organized by a ruthless man with a demon willing to back him up, the Tours ravage the countryside and exhaust the wizards who are forced to help run them. The poor wizard picked to play the Dark Lord gets the brunt of the problems, including having to fake his own death dozens of times for the amusement of the Pilgrims.
This year, the oracles have spoken: if the wizards of the world appoint Derk as the Dark Lord and his teenaged son Blade as one of the tour’s Wizard Guides, then events will conspire to get rid of the Pilgrim Tours once and for all. But nothing is that simple. And Derk’s teenage children – including a Bardic daughter, and several gigantic griffins – are not going to just sit around waiting for disaster. They charge ahead, ready and willing to do what they have to do, even if it means escorting bloodthirsty conscripts around the country, arguing with seriously annoyed dragons, or trying to outwit the malicious people running a gladiator contest. One thing is certain, no Pilgrim Tours were ever this crazy.
Diana Wynne Jones is a master craftswoman. Her status amongst fantasy writers is legendary, and the reputation is well deserved. Like most of her books, this one is well-paced, keeping the action and plotting moving forward. While character development is secondary to what’s going on, there is still plenty of growth of individuals. The book does a fantastic job in skating the line between being a fantasy books and, in some ways, parodying the fantasy genre. The scenes with the tours, in particular, are a send-up of some fantasy tropes, everything from always having stew for dinner to the careful ways in which great pains are taken to create hovels around the “Dark Lord’s” demesne. A perfect choice for anyone who likes high fantasy.