Published by Algonquin Books for Young Readers on October 1, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, MG Books
Source: the publisher
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The new face of big evil is a little . . . small.
Dastardly deeds aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind when one hears the name “Clementine,” but as the sole heir of the infamous Dark Lord Elithor, twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous has been groomed since birth to be the best (worst?) Evil Overlord she can be. But everything changes the day her father is cursed by a mysterious rival.
Now, Clementine must not only search for a way to break the curse, but also take on the full responsibilities of the Dark Lord. But when it’s time for her to perform dastardly deeds against the townspeople—including her brand-new friends—she begins to question her father’s code of good and evil. What if the Dark Lord Clementine doesn’t want to be a dark lord after all?
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Oh, I love this book! Its style and narrative voice remind me a bit of Diana Wynn Jones, or Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. It’s magical, quirky, whimsical, humorous, and often exciting. At the same time, it deals with very real feelings and challenges that many children and young adults face: the weight of parental expectations, conflicting feelings of love and anger; the challenge to know and be true to yourself. There’s fear, deception, and betrayal in these pages, but also courage, honesty, love, and loyalty.
Clementine is a wonderful and very relatable heroine. From the start, it’s clear that she’s not really Dark Lord material at heart, despite her best (or worst?) intentions. But then, her father doesn’t seem to be quite as evil as you’d expect a Dark Lord to be, either. Dark Lord-ing, in Clementine’s world, is apparently a hereditary job (here I’m reminded faintly of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore), and Clementine is determined to do it well. As the story progresses, more and more of her best qualities come to the fore, but it’s not that her own nature changes so much as that her horizons are expanded, her beliefs challenged, and her true, best self begins to break free of her conditioning. But she’s appealing from the very first page.
Several of the other major characters are similarly engaging, particularly Sebastien, the would-be knight, and the black sheep. (A literal black sheep, but also, perhaps, a metaphorical one? That’s for you to find out.) And there’s Vivienne, the Lady of the Lake, fond of putting swords into heroes’ hand, and the Gricken, Clementine’s enchanted grimoire-in-the-shape-of-a-chicken, which grants her new spells in the form of eggs, and… but I should really stop there, for fear of spoiling all your fun.
And fun you will have, despite the seriousness of the curse affecting Clementine’s father. Did I mention the humor? There’s plenty that middle-grade readers will enjoy, but as in many Disney movies, there are comments and moments that will tickle adults’ funnybones as well.
All in all, The Dark Lord Clementine is an absolutely delightful novel, worth reading at any age, and a terrific choice for a family read-aloud.