The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz. Algonquin Young Readers, 2021. 9781643751337
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
,What did you like about the book? Clementine Morcerous is future Dark Lord of the Seven Sisters Valley, and takes her legacy of dastardly deeds seriously. That it, when she’s not tending her flower garden or feeling guilty about her father’s treatment of the villagers in their domain. But she is also very worried about her father – he is slowly being chipped away, literally, by a mysterious curse that is whittling him down until he starts to resemble a skeletal man of wood. As Clementine researches what could be causing his demise, she must look beyond the traditionally closed confines of their silent farm for help, as her father can no longer animate the farm’s zombie-like scarecrow workers. So, in come some unlikely friends – Sebastien Frawley, a villager who wants to be a knight and may have a slight crush on Clementine, Darka West-Starzec, a huntress with a secret, Dave the talking sheep, who provides comic relief, various hedge witches, and Vivienne, the Lady of the Lake, a slightly wacky oracle who dispenses cryptic portents.
With its melding of fantasy, horror, magic (including unicorns!) and legend, this is a slow burning story of Clementine’s coming to terms with her legacy as an evil overlord, while acknowledging her inherent differences with her family. I like how the author introduces the players slowly through the first quarter of the story. The writing has lots of clever wordplay, and presents a setting that is quickly understandable, while being really inventive. Passages from Darka’s point of view show another anguished soul, that of a young woman who is driven by her need to hunt. Her friendship with Clementine is fraught with each character’s unspoken secrets. It’s funny that Clementine (such a sweet name for a dark overlord!) is wary of witchcraft, when her father’s deeds are so much worse than many of the witches in the story: “Her father had warned her to be wary of all signs of witchcraft; things like hyphenated names, controlling wild animals with one’s will, and the ability to fold fitted sheets were all quite high on the list)!
This is an engaging and inventive story that nimbly combines fantasy and questions of family loyalty, with very relatable characters.
This paperback edition follows the original 2019 hardcover.
Anything you didn’t like about it? No
To whom would you recommend this book? Recommend to readers of fantasy who like quirky fantasy/magic titles such as The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, ages 10-15.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and middle schools and public libraries
Where would you shelve it ? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Near the top
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA
Date of review: July 8, 2021