Good Books and Good Wine to thank for adding Dark Lord: the Early Years, by Jamie Thomson (Walker, Oct. 2, 2012, middle grade) to my reading queue, and it turned out to be a fine choice for reading while snowed in--there wasn't anything about snow in it, but it was nicely diverting.
The titular dark lord has fallen on hard times, and a hard pavement, as the book begins. Thrust by the magic of a good wizard from the fantasy realm where he exerts evil power over thousands of minions, he finds himself inhabiting the body of a 12 year old boy, prone and disoriented on a shopping-center parking lot. None of his evil magic works, and worse than that, no one takes the fact that he is a Dark Lord seriously, and without any power to curse them/blast them to smithereens/etc., there's nothing he can do about it.
Now he is simply a foster kid known as Dirk Lloyd, thrust into a perfectly ordinary middle school.
But Dirk is undaunted, not so much clinging to his Dark Lord identity, but utterly owning it. No measly principal will get the better of him! And with his finely honed Dark Lord military mind, the dynamics of middle school are an easy challenge to master. It helps, of course, that his foster brother and his Goth girl class mate find him diverting as all get out, and, though it strains credulity, his unshakable belief in his true identity does make for interesting conversations....
But, trapped in human form, with real friends and affectionate parents for the first time, and with a large dollop of his wickedness left in the parking lot (in oil smear form), Dirk finds himself changing....how long can he really believe that he is a Dark Lord, when it's not at all clear if he'll ever get home to his orc-breeding pits again (if they even really existed....).
There is tons of kid appeal to this one. Dirk's twisted dark lord memories, though gruesome, are so over the top cliched and exuberantly written that they are entertaining rather than disturbing, and the juxtaposition of his Dark Lord persona with middle school is one that many readers will find amusing. Up to a point, perhaps, for the adult reader, who might find it a bit of a one-note joke, even a tiresome one, but I think the intended audience will be more completely absorbed by it.
And Dirk himself actually works his way from being Bad Guy to being a sympathetic character. It's kind of tricky to truly sympathize with him, of course, because he really did do bad things. But the device of him having had a large part of his wickedness left on the parking lot allows readers to give him the chance to become a decent person, or at least, a decent friend (small steps....). And perhaps at some point he will start admitting that Dark Lordness isn't all that nice for those who suffer under its bloody tyranny...
And yes, there is a sequel! Good thing too, because this one ends on a cliffhanger. This is a UK series, where it was published as Dark Lord: the Teenage Years, and the sequel, Fiend in Need, came out last March, and which I really would like to read this week because the story of Dirk and his friends looks like it is about to really truly get going....
Recommended in particular to fans of fantasy war games, those who prefer black to pink, and those seeking tips on minion management. It's also a natural one to give kids who enjoyed Vordak last year, but are ready to move on to meatier fare.
Here's Cory Doctorow's take on it at Boing Boing (enthusiastic), April's review, in case you missed the link above (which isn't enthusiastic, but which still made me seek out the book), and Pam's review at Bookalicious (she liked it).