Book Review : How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : How to Become the Dark Lord and Die TryingHow to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying (Dark Lord Davi, #1) by Django Wexler
Published by Orbit on May 21st 2024
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 432
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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two-stars
Source: NetGalley

Groundhog Day meets Guardians of the Galaxy in Django Wexler’s laugh-out-loud fantasy tale about a young woman who, tired of defending humanity from the Dark Lord, decides to become the Dark Lord herself.
Davi has done this all before. She’s tried to be the hero and take down the all-powerful Dark Lord. A hundred times she’s rallied humanity and made the final charge. But the time loop always gets her in the end. Sometimes she’s killed quickly. Sometimes it takes a while. But she’s been defeated every time.
This time? She’s done being the hero and done being stuck in this endless time loop. If the Dark Lord always wins, then maybe that’s who she needs to be. It’s Davi’s turn to play on the winning side.

As a fan of author Django Wexler’s Burningblade and Silvereye trilogy, I was really excited to dig into How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying, which even had a spot on My Most Anticipated Books of 2024 list. It sounded like an absolute ride and a subversion of the tried-and-true trope of a character getting Isekai-ed into a new world and finding themselves designated as the Chosen One who will save the world. Though I was right and How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying was definitely both of those things, with main character Davi deciding to quit trying to fulfill the prophecy of being the savior of the realm and to turn her sights onto something more manageable, i.e., becoming the Dark Lord, I found it just didn’t work for me. 

 

From the very beginning of the novel to the end, I struggled to connect with any of the characters, but I found that I really didn’t care for Davi. Surely a female character being reborn in a new world with centuries of knowledge from past lives and aiming to use her wits to do what she, and not some prophecy wants, is the ultimate female empowerment story, right? Well…it seemed that Davi’s personality boiled down to two traits: obnoxiously horny and pop culture references. If you don’t mind constant fourth wall breaking and references to our own time, readers might really love all of Davi’s comments, which would be right at home in an episode of a geekier version of Gilmore Girls, but I found them jarring.

 

It’s a little shocking to read Davi yelling “LEEEROOOYY—” as a battle cry or screaming, “fool of a Took,” at someone in pivotal story moments. Though I can definitely appreciate the references, it really took me out of what was happening in the story and had me thinking more about where the references came from and not the actual story I was reading. And with the novel being absolutely littered with these kinds of references, it was hard for them not to feel stale, misplaced (as it often ruined the pacing for me, as I had to sit there and think about references rather than current story events), and over the top. It was also a little weird, as Davi mentions multiple times that she doesn’t really remember her original life and world (ours), which is from where these highly specific and often situational references stem.

 

References aside, the big other personality trait of Davi’s was her inability to separate her ambitions to becoming the dark Lord from her insatiable sexual urges. Who Davi has slept with in her over 1000 years of estimated existences, wants to sleep with, and shouldn’t-have-slept with takes up a very large part of the novel. And when the protagonist is admittedly making things up as she goes along, gets sidetracked by side quests left and right, and only has a vague goal of making it to a Dark Lord convocation in mind, the sexual remarks take up a pretty significant amount of page space, along with the aforementioned popular culture references. 

 

It’s worth noting that the novel takes place in a high fantasy world populated with creatures such as orcs, humans, and wilders. The wilders come in many different forms, with some appearing like foxes, lizards, snakes, deer, and so on and so forth. These wilders, though humanoid creatures, have mainly animal traits, such as lizard eyes, deer antlers, or fox tails. Maybe you can see where this is going. Davi has no qualms about sleeping with Wilders and in one scene describes sleeping with a fox wilder as “really cute” because he wags his tail like a dog when licking peanut butter. While I know this is a fantasy setting with predominantly animal-esque sentient beings, I’m personally not really into allusions of this sort, which directly reference things in our own world, like pets, and wasn’t expecting to encounter it at all—let alone with characters who didn’t have much, if any, of an emotional connection with each other.

 

Having read multiple works by the same author, I can’t help but to notice a trend that gives me pause—most of the novels appear to predominantly feature WLW characters without any, or at least many substantial MLM counterparts. Likewise, there is also usually at least one super sex driven female character included under the pretext of comedy. I’m always a bit hesitant about male authors’ ability to depict these characters accurately from the sheer standpoint of experience alone, but I mostly liked the author’s portrayal of female characters in The Burningblade and Silverye trilogy. However, this representation of bisexual Davi in How To Become the Dark Lord And Die Trying felt shallow and even stereotypical to me because of the constant, weird sexual references and the lack of intimate relationships of any kind among other characters.  While I’m all for a woman owning her sexuality, when her raging sexual desires become one of the sole defining character traits of the protagonist and a major plot point to which we are inevitably doomed to keep returning, that’s a bit much for my tastes and screams that it’s written by a male author. Here’s just a few of the incessant remarks pertaining to Davi’s sex life:

 

“I need to stop fucking people before I betray them.”*

 

‘‘If I’d known they were going to take you, I would never—’

‘It’s all right. I’m all right. Really. Everything was very consensual.’

‘You’re—’ she leans back a few inches to stare at me. ‘what do you mean?’

‘Quiet.’ I pull her close. ‘We have friends among the enemy. Well. More than friends, I guess. We have fuck buddies among the enemy’

‘I’m so fucking lost,’ Tsav says.”

 

“Great. Can’t a Dark Lord get a night of fornication with a minion without him getting all clingy? The worst of it is there’s not really anywhere else I can go to get my rocks off.”

 

There’s Dark and there’s Dark, right, this isn’t HBO. And I am not going to be celibate for as long as this project takes, don’t fucking start.”

 

“Q: How does a girl with tusks go down on you?

A: Very carefully, and with commendable attention to detail.”

 

The biggest strength of How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying for me was in its core idea of a protagonist rejecting their role as a chosen one and deciding to become the villain instead. It was interesting to see Davi figure out how to become her own brand of villain with her own morals, though I wouldn’t say she was at all consistent in her decisions. One minute she’s bashing in the face of an old wizard and the next she can’t stand to see anyone harmed. 

 

While I didn’t think the execution of the awesome premise was the best, I did think what little focus of the novel that was dedicated to world-building was, if not super complex, at least interesting. There is reference to a magical system, which only humans can truly harness and there’s also a pretty unique naturally occurring substance known as thaumite. This thaumite comes in a variety of colors and can be absorbed by both beasts and Wilders to give them a variety of benefits. A red thaumite, for instance, gives Davi greater physical strength. Davi, through her original existence as what she thinks was a human nerd, is able to harness both the magic of humans and to utilize the thaumite, much like wilders. This puts her in some tricky  positions, as she has to hide her magical powers from her Wilder minions, who naturally despise humans. 

 

Though How to Become the Dark Lord leaves off on cliffhanger, while simultaneously setting up for its sequel, I don’t see myself reading future entries in the series. In all honesty, I’m not exactly sure who the intended audience for this book was, but it definitely wasn’t me (even though I consider myself a big fan of Isekai stories, female characters, and the Dark Side). I’d recommend this book to fantasy fans who are looking for something of a cozy, lower stakes fantasy, with plenty of unseriousness and sexuality to go around.

 

*All quotes taken from an ARC and subject to change at time of publication.

 

two-stars
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Book Review : How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying - Blogging with Dragons

Posted March 29, 2024 in ARCS, Book Reviews, Fantasy

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