MG Book Review: The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz

The Dark Lord Elithor’s daughter, Clementine, lives a lonely life in the Valley of the Seven Sisters—too evil—and, it must be said, too uppity—to fit in with the ‘common folk’ but not quite evil enough to please her father. He never does have very much time for Clementine. Sometimes it’s as if he’s barely aware he has a daughter . . . he’s much too busy performing dark magic and enacting the required dastardly deeds that keep him in good standing with the Council of Evil Overlords thus securing his undisputed dark lordship over the valley.

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Cover Art by Michelle Lamoreaux; Cover Design by Carla Weise.

Until the day that lordship is, well, disputed. Elithor finds himself cursed by an evil villain calling herself the Whittle Witch. Under her spell, Elithor’s flesh is slowly turning to wood and being carved away, and the only way it will stop is if Elithor surrenders his rule over the Seven Sisters.

In the meantime, a raven has been sent to Castle Brack from the Council of Evil Overlords: If Lord Elithor or someone in his household does not perform the required dastardly deed, he’ll be forced to cede his dark lordship as well as his control over the Valley of the Seven Sisters. With Elithor cursed, and their home threatened from all sides, it’s up to Clementine to assume the role of Acting Dark Lord and perform the dastardly deed to save their home.

There’s only one problem: Clementine isn’t sure she wants to be a dark magician.

Still, Clementine is determined to save Castle Brack and her father’s reputation. But as she searches for ways to stir up minor chaos in hopes of fulfilling the requirement, she finds it’s hard-going alone. No one seems inclined to befriend the daughter of the dark lord who’s been tormenting them with dastardly deeds these many long years, and when she comes to see the effect her father’s lordship has had over their lives, she . . . kinda doesn’t blame them.

castlebrackSo when local boy Sebastien Frawley offers his services, Clementine is rather stunned—though she can hardly afford to turn him away. It turns out that Sebastien has always dreamed of being a knight, and serving at Castle Brack is the only opportunity a boy from the valley will ever have. He’d never have dreamed about approaching Lord Elithor, but now that Clementine is the Dark Lord, couldn’t she use some extra help?

She could.

Together, Clementine and Sebastien seek out a way to defend Castle Brack—and break her father’s curse. Along the way, they receive help from a cluster of cronish witches, a talking sheep, a Gricken (a grimoire accidentally spelled into the form of a chicken), and a string of village boys who, as it turns out, all secretly want to wave swords around in the defense of . . . well, pretty much anything. For the first time in her life, Clementine questions her father’s evil ways as she and her newly acquired friends work to build a community strong enough (they hope) to ward off encroaching witches and evil overlords.

And then a stranger comes to town.purple-1158017_1920

Darka is a monster hunter with a mysterious past, but she recognizes magic when she sees it. There’s something about the Seven Sisters that’s drawn her unerringly toward what she believes is a magical wellspring—and wellsprings like these always share the same vile source: a unicorn.

When Darka agrees to help Clementine save Castle Brack, it’s only because she wants to get within shooting distance of the monstrous creature. But after getting to know Clementine, Sebastien,  the village boys—ahem, knights—and the Seven Sisters, Darka finds her objective more difficult than she anticipated. Not only is she captivated by the magic of the Seven Sisters herself, she also sees how much Clem and the others rely on that magic to survive.

Can Darka kill the unicorn and the magic of the Seven Sisters, thereby destroying the home Clementine has so unreservedly shared with her? Will Clementine break the Whittle Witch’s curse and save her father’s dominion over the Seven Sisters? And how much more of this nonsense can the little village in the valley really take, anyway?

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Author Sarah Jean Horwitz (Photo by Emma L. Young Photography)

The Dark Lord Clementine (Workman, Oct 1, 2019) by middle-grade veteran Sarah Jean Horwitz (Carmer and Grit Series) is an original hit that is both enchanting and exceedingly clever. Full of hilarity, missteps and misrule, kids will laugh out loud as Clementine stumbles through the Valley of the Seven Sisters, upsetting witches, lords, and local politicians alike as she seeks to restore the balance of the land suddenly in her keeping while also wrestling with the concepts of good and evil. Ultimately, the tale is one of friendship and belonging, and the work required to achieve them. While recommended for ages 10 and up, it is written in simple but compelling language that could likely be enjoyed by younger advanced readers.

Readers who like a good mix of over-the-top humor and sarcastic or deadpan jabs will revel in this journey, as will anyone who appreciates the lighter side of darkness and finds themselves unable to resist a little well-meaning evil. All in all, it’s the perfect book to kick off the spooky season!

What other “spooky reads” have you fallen in love with in the past few years? Leave a comment and help me build a reading list! 😉

*I was given an advanced review copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions about the book are mine.*

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