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Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Review: How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying by Django Wexler


Official Author Website
Buy How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.

FORMAT/INFO: How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying will be published by Orbit on May 21st, 2024. It is 387 pages long and told in first person from Davi's point of view. It is available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats.
 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: For a thousand years, Davi has been stuck in a time loop. After waking up in a fantasy world with no recollection of how she got there, she was told she was the one prophesied to defeat the Dark Lord and save the world. And Davi's tried! Over 200 times she's tried to find a way to beat him, only to inevitably end up killed and sent back to the pond where she first woke up. Tired of defeat, Davi decides to try something new: What if, instead of defeating the Dark Lord, she just becomes the Dark Lord? She knows from experience there's a gathering in two months to choose the next Dark Lord. All she needs is to show up a hoard and claim the title. How hard could that be?

Whether or not you'll like How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying can be summed up with a single question: How much do you like the movie Deadpool? There's a lot of similarities in tone between the two, including my reaction to it. Davi is vulgar, crass, and horny, reeling off quips and pop culture references at a mile a minute. It's especially egregious in the opening of the book, and was overwhelming enough I almost DNF'd the book in the prologue. After a few pages I was convinced this book wasn't going to be for me, but given how much I'd like Wexler's previous (more straightforward) works, I decided to hang on for one chapter.

And then one chapter became two and and two became four and then next thing I knew I'd finished the book in 48 hours. Because despite being riddled with humor that isn't my thing, this book was compulsively readable. To start with, it's a great premise that starts at the right moment to maximize the absurdity of the situation. When we meet Davi, she's gone through the time loop over two hundred times. She knows her way around the Kingdom and the time loop, and has long since given up on trying to break free and return to the "real world". We don't live through the early days of her realizing she's in a loop or figuring out the rules. The Davi we meet has accepted her lot in life and moves through the Kingdom completely blasé about the whole thing, deciding what she wants to do on this particular outing in the loop, and generally messing with people as her mood strikes her.

I was impressed with the ways the time loop convention was used for both comedy and tension. Early on in the story, Davi doesn't care if she dies or who she kills in the process. After all, she's just going to wake up again, everything will have reset, and she can try a new tactic. But the further Davi gets in her journey, the less comfortable she is with resetting the time loop. Will she be able to recreate the circumstances that got her this far?

And underneath all the coarse humor, there is a heart at the center of Davi. Sure, she may ruthlessly kill a bunch of people on the way to her goal but despite talking a big game about how her hoard is just her minions, she can't seem to bring herself to actually TREAT them like minions. Between that and the pacing, I ended up finding more than I expected to like in this adventure.

CONCLUSION: How to Become the Dark Lord is definitely not going to be for everyone. Between the pop culture references (everything from World of Warcraft to Is it Cake?) and the off-color humor, there are many who are going to find this grating. But there are just as many who are absolutely going to love it. I'm glad I trusted Wexler enough to ride out my rough entry into the story, because now I absolutely need to know what happens next. 

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