Dark Lord (2007) is the first book in Ed Greenwood's Falconfar trilogy. Greenwood is the mind behind the seminal Forgotten Realms campaign world, as well as writing a billion or so (approximate count) books for that setting.
Dark Lord, unsurprisingly, is a fairly standard high fantasy novel - good girls, bad wizards, a bit of prophecy and a bit of 'sucked out of the mundane world' thrown in for good measure.
More surprisingly, Dark Lord is an absolutely ingenious pastiche of the modern fantasy genre.
That, or absolute shit. You be the judge.
The book features Rod Everlar, who is a fantasy writer in "real life". Rod created the immensely popular Falconfar setting - describing every aspect of the world in loving detail. The setting was so popular that a computer game company (the inauspiciously-named Holdoncorp) bought it. Poor Rod can now feel his creation slipping away.
That is, until it comes very, very near.
Rod's having an erotic...er... meaningful dream in which a winged woman is being meaningfully stabbed to death by a 'Black Helm' and wakes up to a stickiness in his sheets. The angel has been transported through time & space to wind up bleeding to death at Rod's feet. Fortunately, Rod discovers mystical, plot-bending healing powers before someone calls the police.
Healing powers are soon accompanied by his mystical, plot-bending powers of teleportation (never once referenced again), and Rod joins his new chum Taeauna ("Tay") in Falconfar. Tay's a handy host - she's good with a sword and seems to know everyone. She also takes her clothing off with surprising regularity. Although she coyly refuses to mystically bend Rod's plot (wink, nudge), about half of her suggestions involve the two of them cuddling erotically in streams, beds and haystacks. ("Enemies could find us at any moment - let's take our clothes off and go swimming!")
Rod's a little wound up by Tay and her constant display of body parts. "Shapely" is used approximately 430 times during the course of Dark Lord to describe the de-winged Angel, predominantly those parts that are neck-down. Greenwood is less finicky about her other attributes: on page 13, her "dark" eyes are described two paragraphs later as "emerald". But with such shapeliness on display, I'm surprised Rod ever gets the occasion to look at her face.
Rod learns that his magical kingdom has completely spiralled out of control. The Three Dooms (powerful wizards) are tearing the land apart in their contest for power. Fortunately, there's a prophecy. Rod, who is the Fourth Doom, is there to straighten things out - as soon as he discovers how to use his powers. Actually, he's the Fifth Doom, as there was a previous Doom, but that Doom disappeared for a while. So, really, any one of the Three-to-Five-Dooms could be the object of prophecy, depending on how they stand in line.
Taken at face value, this is a predictable, conventional "airport" fantasy, combining the casual misogyny of Terry Goodkind with the vapid, follow-the-bouncing-prophecy silliness of Robert Jordan. However, with a little imagination and a lot of generosity, this could be read as an incredibly incisive pastiche. I mean - sexy, wingless angels? Buxom apprentices that only wear chains? "Dooms"? It isn't too much of a stretch to think that this is an exercise in sarcasm.
Probably the best case for either a) the sheer stupidity or b) the utter brilliance of Dark Lord is Rod's ridiculous magical nature. He is, in fact, completely immortal. Enemy spells bounce off him (never explained). He regenerates all wounds (never explained). One entire chapter is dedicated to graphic torture as Rod is casually abused by one of his rival Dooms. Despite having to repeatedly regrow his testicles, Rod is... fine. A little shaky on his feet, perhaps, but only until the end of the page. (Sadly, Rod's allies never take full advantage and turn him into the perfect meat-shield.)
Fantasies aside, Greenwood further aids the satirical interpretation of Dark Lord with his constant, snide comments against the "sinister" computer game company. (I'd bet $10 they turn out to be Doom-owned in Book 3). Everything that goes wrong is blamed squarely on those "damn computer game people". Because they refuse to realize Rod's artistry, the world of Falconfar is falling apart at the seams: societies are crumbling, chivalry is dying, monsters surge across the land, hope is lost & beautiful angel-winged women have to sex people to stay alive. Goddammit, Hasbr...er...Holdoncorp, why did you piss on Ed/Rod's dreams, and turn his dreamworld into such a godawful place?
The obvious Mary Sue comparison aside, this is the source of some fairly deft sarcasm at times. Rod makes cheeky remarks about the ecology of re-spawning monsters and the occasional irrational treasure-crawl. Of course, he does so whilst blowing up zombie-knights with unnamed blasting sceptres that he carries around by the half-dozen.
Despite my best efforts, I can't really defend the Dark Lord as some sort of post-modern success. It is, sadly, a book determined to be taken at face value. I suppose the final defense of Dark Lord is that it was oddly more-ish. I'm not sure I'll actively seek out the second book, but I suspect that, if I did, it too would prove a perfectly serviceable companion for a long plane flight.
Tube journeys: 1 train journey & 2 slightly-embarrassed tube journeys