Dark Lord Clementine rules with quirky charm

Middle-grade fiction by Sarah Jean Hurwitz

The sole heir of the infamous Dark Lord Elithor Morcerous is a bit on the small side. Twelve-year-old Clementine has been groomed since birth to be the best (worst?) Evil Overlord she can be, terrorizing townfolk and committing Dastardly Deeds. But Clementine seems to be cut of a different cloth from the earlier Morcerous generations.

For one thing, she enjoys keeping a small flower garden in the midst of their forbidding castle. And for another, deep down she can’t help feeling that the Dastardly Deeds are a bit, well, mean.

Everything changes the day her father, Dark Lord Elithor, is cursed by a mysterious rival, the Whittling Witch, and his body parts begin whittling away. The castle and its farm are falling apart as he struggles to break the curse, and Clementine must step in to hold things together. 

When she ventures into the woods to pick herbs for a helpful spell, the Whittling Witch sends the trees and an enchanted thunderstorm to attack her. Sebastien, a village boy who dreams of being a knight, and Darka, a mysterious hunter, try to help Clementine. The girl’s grimoire of spells (which has been accidentally turned into a chicken) offers her a protection spell for sunlight — something no self-respecting Dark Lord would have anything to do with.

Having to use the White Magic spell causes Clementine some mental distress at the thought that it might make her a Good Witch:

“Clementine had to fight the bile rising in her throat at the mere thought: Clementine Morcerous, Good Witch of the Seven Sisters, prancing about in gowns made out of flower petals and whistling along with songbirds and aiding plucky heroes on quests? She’d rather have her head mounted on the library wall.”

Horwitz has great fun in playing with the fantasy tropes, mixing wry, modern language and attitudes with fairytale archetypes. There are talking sheep, unicorns, hedge witches, and even a Lady of the Lake, who hurls swords from her lake willy-nilly, hoping to aid a questing hero:

“’Who dares to seek what the future may bring? What hero of ages will wield this mighty sword?’

Sebastien edged forward.

‘Um, do you mean this one?’ Sebastien asked, holding up the sword he had caught. He couldn’t be sure. There were a lot of other available options.”

As Clementine gains more experience of the lands outside her gloomy castle and begins to actually make some friends, she questions her own magic and her place in the world. What if, she wonders, the Dark Lord Clementine doesn’t want to be dark after all? Throughout the tale, Horwitz maintains an easy balance of humor and heart, resulting in a middle-grade read that fantasy lovers are sure to gobble up.

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