Tuesday, December 05, 2023

The Dark Lord's Daughter

Wrede, Patricia. The Dark Lord's Daughter
September 5, 2023 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kayla was adopted as a baby by Rikita and Michael Jones, and hasn't thought too much about her birth parents, even after her father's recent death from cancer. Her mother, Riki, has tried to keep things pretty much the same for Kayla and her younger brother Del, but it's a struggle. When the fair rolls around, the three go, and Kayla isn't too thrilled about it. She has even brought her school tablet, which she has named Macavinchy, along with her, hoping to play some games when her mother is off seeing exhibits, and it does come in handy when accessing information about the fair. When an odd guy turns up, identifying himself as "Waylan, second commander of the Dark Horse of Zaradwin" and claiming that Kayla is really Xavrielina, the daughter of the Dark Lord Xavriel, they all think he is nuts... until they find themselves transported to an odd, quasi medeival world. Not everything in their possession has something analagous in that time, so some things transmute; Riki's cell phone becomes a lavendar messenger mouse, and Macavinchy becomes a familiar in the form of a winged monkey-type animal. (Although he's sensitive about being portrayed as such). The three head off through the woods to the castle, and meet Archibald along the way. He actually hopes to become the Dark Lord himself, even though he has Light magic, but even so, Kayla allows him to come along. After they get settled in the very decrepit castle, they learn the back story; Kayla's aunts sent her to another world so that she wouldn't pose a threat to them (and exile is better than murder!), but since her father has been gone ten years, and things have deteriorated in the kingdom, they're willing to have her back. Riki isn't thrilled with a lot of this and wants to go back home, but it proves difficult for Kayla to figure out how to accomplish this. She thinks that learning magic from the castle librarian, Harkawn, might be the way to go. There are a number of people at the castle who have an interest in what happens to Kayla, but an investiture is scheduled and preparations are made. There are a lot of traditions to uphold, although Kayla feels comfortable fighting many of them, and a lot of secrets of the Dark Lord that have to be figured out before Kayla can rule the kingdom.
Strengths: I absolutely adored the fact that her mother and brother went along with her on the magical journey! This should happen a lot more in middle grade literature. There are a lot of good details about what it takes to rule a kingdom; all of the Dark Traditions are very clearly laid out, and it reminded me a bit of Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold! Of course one has to think about the castle budget, whom to invite to the investiture, how to deal with disloyal family members; being a Dark Lady is hard, and Kayla has to meet with different people to figure out how to proceed. The best part of this was how the technology of Macavinchy translate into magic in Zaradwin, and the clever way that Kayla manages to repair the castle and remove the threats using not only Macavinchy but also the forces in the castle. There's plenty of set up here for another book; now that Kayla has settled into the castle, I'm sure that people from the kingdom will try to challenge her! 
Weaknesses: I wanted this to have a lot more action and adventure, like Dealing with Dragons. It's such a great concept, and I understand why Kayla has to spend so much time in the castle just getting ready for her reign, but it... felt a bit like a faculty meeting. A lot of details, like having clothes made for the investiture, that should have been fun but ended up being dreary. This will appeal to hard core fantasy readers who like every little detail, but I would have liked this better if we had gone straight into a quest. Some reviewers complained that the mother was too involved and a bit whiny; I didn't think that at all. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me that she made sure the castle got cleaned up and stepped in to make breakfast. If I had gotten sucked into a world that proclaimed my daughter the Dark Lady, I probably would have tried to move things along a bit more quickly. 
What I really think: This was very different from something like Dark Lord: The Early Years; it wasn't really played too much for laughs. I don't know WHY the concept of a Dark Lord should be treated in this way, but I was surprised that this didn't. Of course, Kayla was rather appalled that she would have to kill people, and earn money by pillaging, but it would have been a lot more fun if she threw herself into the role. I have a feeling that Del would, if he were given a similar chance. I'm curious to see where the next book takes us. 

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