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DWJ Reread: Dark Lord of Derkholm

“Rules,” he read. “1. Wizards are to grow bears, wear their hair below shoulder length, and carry a staff at all times.”

“Help!” said Blade. He leaped up and rushed to the mirror. After half an hour of trial and error, he found a way to grow himself a long white beard and a bush of white hair. Out of it, his face stared, rosy and rounded and young. He looked like an albino dwarf. Hopeless. He found how to turn all the new hair dark. This time he just looked like a dwarf who had forgotten to do his plaits, but it would have to do.

- Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Dark Lord of Derkholm was first published in 1998, and I got my copy (a 2001 reissue) in 2006. By this time, I had started working part-time at our first (and if I were to judge on availability of DWJ and other favourites, which I do, the only) decent bookstore in my city (note that I also got my copy of Deep Secret in 2006!). I remember having seen copies of Dark Lord and Year of the Griffin on the YA shelves a few times, despite the fact that these books are definitely not YA. I went on collecting almost all the other DWJs I could find first, before finally picking Dark Lord up, because unlike the rest of the books, which mostly had cost me about RM 14.90-19.90 per copy, this book was RM 27.95. This was a lot of money to me then, and thinking about it now it seems hilarious, because I don’t think the average salary have increased much since then (if I was still a part timer, I would only be making 1 extra ringgit per hour now!) but the cheaper paperback books are now around RM 45, with many American editions going up to 80 ringgit.

And they wonder why people don’t read…

Anyway! If you look this book up one of the first things you will find out is that it’s a parody of high fantasy. But like Daphne recently pointed out, it’s also a really good example of a high fantasy novel… despite technically being a subverted portal fantasy? My friends know that portal fantasies are among my favourite kinds of fantasy, even if high fantasies usually aren’t. You see, DWJ was helping out with a Fantasy encyclopaedia when she thought of writing The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is also a sort of fantasy encyclopaedia detailing the tropes and cliches in fantasy novels of the time. And working on Tough Guide in turn had her writing a story set IN Fantasyland, which is this book. (This was mentioned in the back pages of Tough Guide.)

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DWJ Re-Read no. 53 | Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998)
previous read: "The Girl Jones"
next read: Puss In Boots

DWJ Reread: "The Girl Jones"

“The Girl Jones” is an essay about an incident in Diana Wynne Jones’ childhood that was included in the Sisters anthology (stories about the not-so-easy parts of sisterhood) in 1998. In it, DWJ explained that she was called “the girl Jones” by the people in her village if she was called anything at all, and told the story of one of the adventures that made her so notorious.

When she was nine, she was with her sister Ursula (and Isobel nearby) waiting for a girl from school to come over and play with them. When the girl (Jean) finally arrived, it was with her younger sisters, which she convinced DWJ (promising friendship in return) to look after while she did her shopping. More and more children turned up with their siblings to dump in Diana’s care, and it became obvious that somehow the word got out to the other kids. This being a Diana Wynne Jones anecdote, I was unsurprised to read that she ended up taking the children on an “adventure” which was relatively harmless, but ensured that no one would entrust her with small children (other than her own sisters) ever again.

It’s a short, amusing story, and it felt like something I might have read about in a novel - but then again, a lot of the DWJ anecdotes I’ve read felt that way. As fun as it was to read, though, I’m not sure that it fits in the anthology it was first published in, as it wasn’t quite about Diana’s relationship with her sisters, although I supposed it sort of showed what kind of sister she was to Ursula and Isobel. It was reprinted in Unexpected Magic and again, it didn’t feel like it fit.

DWJ Re-Read no. 52 | “The Girl Jones” (1998)
previous read: Deep Secret
next read: Dark Lord of Derkholm

DWJ Reread: Deep Secret

"There is seldom any true secret."
- Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

Sometimes I look back at the world before GoodReads was a thing, and I had Google in a pocket, and we actually had a decent bookstore in my city, and I wonder about all the books I might have missed. Deep Secret was published in 1997, and I know for sure that I was already a Diana Wynne Jones fan by then. And yet my first copy of this book, the somewhat expurgated Starscape edition with a pretty cover by Charles Vess, became mine in 2006. What was I doing in all those year in between?? (I was probably about the same age as Nick in this book, so I wouldn’t have had much money for new books when this was published, not to mention the bookstores here wouldn’t have had a copy, but still.)

Anyway. This is the first of the two Magid books by Diana Wynne Jones, but it was the second one that I read because I didn’t know this book existed until at least 2006, a fact that is very weird to me now. I believe this is only my second time reading this book, or maybe the third.

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DWJ Re-Read no. 51 | Deep Secret (1997)
previous read: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
next read: "The Girl Jones"

DWJ Reread: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

“SLENDER YOUTH. A Tour COMPANION who may be either a lost PRINCE or a girl/PRINCESS in disguise. In the latter case it is tactful to pretend you think she is a boy. She/he will be ignorant, hasty and shy, and will need hauling out of trouble quite a lot. But she/he will grow up in the course of the Tour. In fact she/he will be the only Companion who will change in any way. Quite often, she/he will soon exhibit a very useful TALENT for MAGIC and end up by hauling everyone else out of trouble. But this will not be until midway through your second brochure.”
- The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland was first published in the UK in 1996, and reads a bit like TV Tropes for those big fat fantasy trilogies that were so popular back then. I don’t read a lot of this particular brand of fantasy, but I’ve read enough that I find most of the entries immediately recognisable.

Using the conceit of being a guide book for tourists visiting Fantasyland (which could be the setting of nearly any sword & sorcery book of the time), The Tough Guide sorts entries on everything from HORSES (“They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the DARK LORD are only half an hour behind.”) to STEW (“the staple FOOD in Fantasyland, so be warned…. Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time.”) in alphabetical order.

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DWJ Re-Read no. 50 | The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996)
previous read: The True State of Affairs
next read: Deep Secret

November's Books


* A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian
* One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
* A Delicate Deception by Cat Sebastian

* The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Katie O'Neill
* Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
* Dawn of X Vol. 8 by Jonathan Hickman, et al

I knew I didn't read much in November, but I didn't realise just how little I read. Part of it is pure exhaustion - we went from 8-hr work days with a 1 hour and 15 mins break, to 10-hr days with a shorter break (1hr)... not much when most of that break time is spent trying to find a free table at the food court or what passes for our pantry. I have an extra day off every week with this new schedule, but I felt too tired to read? I tried watching movies and series I've been meaning to get into, but even those felt heavy after awhile, and these days I've just been doom-scrolling on twitter and IG, or watching short videos on yt. And, of course, playing Animal Crossing.

Having said that, the books I read last month were all excellent, and One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston is lovely, and Katie O'Neill's Tea Dragon Tapestry is PERFECT and can I please live in that book forever. I can't wait for both of these to be available in print.

Our YA book club read Garth Nix's Sabriel, which isn't included above because while I did try to reread it, it just felt too bleak to continue in my current mood. The discussion was very interesting, though, and I look forward to the next meeting.


September & October's Books

* The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite
* Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner
* The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen
* The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
* The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (Reread)
* The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (Reread)
* The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (Reread)
* A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (Reread)
* Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (Reread)

* Lucifer Vol. 1: Devil in the Gateway by Mike Carey & Scott Hampton (Reread)
* Dawn of X Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman, et al
* Dawn of X Vol. 2 by Jonathan Hickman, et al

Picture Books
* Teatime Around the World by Denise Waissbluth & Chelsea O'Byrne
I started the month mainly reading books for #SapphicSeptember, and then started on Midnight Bargain (whose previous book that I read was sapphic, but not this one!) which, together with Olivia Waite's books, put me in the mood for historical romances. I haven't been really into historical romances since I was around 12, so it's a pretty weird mood to be in for me. And then I started to catch up with the Dawn of X books (since I read Excalibur and Marauders as they came out, but not the others) and am finding myself really, really into the X-Men again, another mood I haven't been in since I was 12.
Am I really just being nostalgic for my childhood, or something? I don't think my childhood was a particularly happy one, but I guess the books were good.
And then, of course, I reread the first five books of the Queen's Thief series - I had 5 days off work because I was planning to visit my parents, but then the lockdown happened. I read one book a day, and enjoyed every moment.


* The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
* Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert
* The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth
* The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (Reread)
* It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian
* A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian
* The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
* Two Rogues Make A Right by Cat Sebastian
* Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian
* Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones (Reread)

* Minor Arcana by Diana Wynne Jones

* Dawn of X Vol. 3 by Jonathan Hickman, et al
* Dawn of X Vol. 4 by Jonathan Hickman, et al
* Dawn of X Vol. 5 by Jonathan Hickman, et al
* Dawn of X Vol. 6 by Jonathan Hickman, et al
* Dawn of X Vol. 7 by Jonathan Hickman, et al
* Fangs by Sarah Andersen
* BL Metamorphosis Vol. 2 by Tsurutani Kaori
* Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle

Picture Books
* Pirate Stew by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
* What We'll Build by Oliver Jeffers
* Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban & Garth Williams
* A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban & Garth Williams
* I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown, Jason "Rachel" Brown, & Anoosha Syed
* In the Half Room by Carson Ellis
* If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

I started reading the final Queen's Thief book on the release date (on kindle), and later, when my physical copy arrived, I read it again while listening to the audiobook on Scribd. And... I "discovered" Cat Sebastian; I've read one of her novellas before, but it was just alright to me. Now I suddenly find myself really into her books? Maybe it's because I am already in the mood for historical romances... either way, I am turning to romances because I'm craving romcoms (the cheesier the better) and yet these books touch on other issues that I've never seen addressed in romance novels, so I find them refreshing. I think it's the same reason why I love Olivia Waite's A Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics!

Now that I'm on volume 7 of Dawn of X, I'm putting myself on pause - I don't want to catch up to all the available issues too soon.

Fall in Tanaqui

My ACNH island is called Tanaqui after the character from Diana Wynne Jones' Dalemark Quartet. I was going to call the island Dalemark but in the end I thought Tanaqui sounded nicer. Other names I was considering were: Attolia (after Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books), Chaldea (as in The Islands of Chaldea), and Nekojima (because I wanted a cat island, ha.)

I mostly post my ACNH screenshots on Instagram (as sarusaurusrex), but I wanted to share a few pics of my island in the fall. And yet I seem to have forgotten to take any screenshots of the Halloween decorations...


DWJ Reread: The True State of Affairs

"This was a terrible waste of feeling."


It's been a year since my last DWJ Reread post, and I've read The True State of Affairs twice throughout, and I still don't know how I feel about it. From what I know, this novella was written in the 60s, but was never published until 1995, when it was included in the limited print collection Everard's Ride. It doesn't really read like any of the fantasy books I've read from the time, so I think I can kind of understand if her agent or publisher wasn't keen when she first wrote it. It's a little strange and meandering, and not quite like her other works.

For one, it's a lot darker and rather pessimistic. It's definitely got a more YA/adult vibe than her other works. In the introduction, DWJ revealed that it was inspired by The Kingis Quair, which describes the imprisonment of James I of Scotland who spent his time watching a woman from his prison window and fancying himself in love with her, or something like that. Of course, his imprisonment came to an end with him marrying Joan Beaufort, so I wasn't going into this novella thinking that it was going to get a happy ending.
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DWJ Re-Read no. 49 | The True State of Affairs (1996)
previous read: Everard's Ride
next read: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

my current new (old) obsession

Uncanny X-men #210 by Chris Claremont and John Romita, first published in 1986, was my first comic that isn't an Archie digest or a volume of Doraemon. I'm an older millennial, making me a child of the late 80s/early 90s. I grew up My Little Pony and He-Man and Jem and the Holograms and Dungeons & Dragons and X-Men: The Animated Series. We had comic shops then, but I didn't have access to them. Instead, what I had was this used magazine place right across the supermarket, which had huge bins of old comics from the 80s. Now, I wish I could go back to that time and see what else they had, but back then all I cared about were the X-Men. I started with Uncanny X-Men #210, which traumatised me just a tiny little bit, and was craving for more. There were a lot, but I found more issue over time - #305 one day, #226 the next. My reading of the series was scattered and incomplete, but I was used to it and didn't mind at all. I just wanted more.

(I did read the regular X-Men series alongside Uncanny X-Men whenever I found copies, but the latter was my favourite.)

As the years passed (going into 1995 or so) there were fewer 80s comics to be found, and more of the ones from early 90s. Lots of X-Factor, X-Force, Cable, and Deadpool. I HATED them. I had never read X-Men as a continuous story, and it felt like my favourites just disappeared to be replaced with these weird dudes with huge muscles that I didn't care about at all, aesthetically or otherwise. Around this same time, I discovered shojo manga and eventually The Sandman, so I stopped reading Marvel comics. I guess my mother would've said I "grew up."

Sometime in the late 2000s, I discovered and read all of Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run, but that was the only Marvel comic I read in that decade as far as I remember.

In early 2014, Marvel introduced a new character named Kamala Khan. At this point, all I knew about Ms. Marvel was that Rogue stole her powers and put her in a coma (that Ms. Marvel is now Captain Marvel.) Kamala may not be the first Muslim superhero, but she was the first that read as a real person to me. And I became obsessed, collecting the Ms. Marvel comics (in trade) and occasionally reading other titles to make sense of them. Then I started reading the Ultimate Spider-Man (Miles Morales!) comics, and the Totally Awesome Hulk (Amadeus Cho!) comics, and the Nova (Sam Alexander!) comics... and the Young Avengers (Gillen/McKelvie run, with queer icon America Chavez in the team, as well as Billy and Teddy, one of my favourite couples in the Marvel Universe) as well as the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye (Kate Bishop!!) run. Somehow, thanks to finding more characters to love and who were more relatable than the ones I grew up with, I became a Marvel fangirl again - or rather, for the first time, as previously I was only an X-Men fangirl.

Since then, I've been catching up every now and then, either reading comics from the time I wasn't reading any, or reading up on certain events. I found that while there were key X-Men moments that I'd missed - like House of M - for the most part, that franchise was kinda neglected. Until recently, of course. Last year, Jonathan Hickman's House of X/Powers of X launched, and I felt like it was a very lucky time to be an X-fan. I guess because I missed a lot of the key X-Men moments that actually happened within my lifetime, it was exciting to be reading it as it was published for once.

And! I'm my store's comics buyer now! So it felt like I was coming full circle, in a way. I'm even reading newer comics about those dudes with big muscles (the current Cable series features a younger Cable who looks and acts more like a person - lol - and the current Deadpool series is by one of my favourite writers, Kelly Thompson!) and love seeing them in a new light. And because I'm still catching up with older stories, while following the new ones, I think I may be starting on a Dawn of X reading project one of these days. We'll see!

An aside: I feel weird tagging this with the superheroes tag, because while they're technically part of the superhero genre, they're not doing much superheroing in these comics...