Book ReviewsBooksFeaturesReviews

Review: ‘How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying’ by Django Wexler

Share this:

Davi has had it with this world, and it’s not like we can exactly blame her, either. After mysteriously arriving from Earth into a fantastical world full of magic and humanoid beasts, she’s told by a wizard she’s the Kingdom’s savior, destined to save them from The Dark Lord and his monstrous horde. But this is not simply a David (or rather Davi) vs Goliath story where the underdog hero saves the day. Davi tries valiantly to defeat The Dark Lord’s hordes and save this kingdom, over and over again. Every time she dies. This happens hundreds of times. After each usually horrible death, she wakes up in that same cold pool, gets the same speech from the same wizard, and the whole thing starts again. That is, until Davi decides to flip the script on this fairy tale and become the *expletive* Dark Lord herself! This is the premise of How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying by Django Wexler.

[Warning: This book contains a lot of dark humor, and contained in this book and mentioned in this review are instances of suicidal thoughts by the main character. For more information or if you need help, visit the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website or call 988. Warning for mild spoilers/impressions on the story below.]

Groundhog Day meets LOTR-esque isekai adventure in How to Become The Dark Lord and Die Trying

Davi is a bit fuzzy on her previous life before the time loop from hell started for her, but she’s pretty sure she came from America, and her manner of speech (including A LOT of f-bombs), general attitude, and other references support that throughout. Sometimes when characters in fantasy stories use more modern language, it takes me out a bit, but in this instance, it makes sense.

For the past, Davi guesses, 1000 years, and over 230 lives, our heroine has been dying and restarting the same way over and over, usually after some horrific torturous death at the hands of the Dark Lord’s minions. These minions, collectively called wilders, are made up of groups of humanoid-beast hybrids mainly, including “orc” like people, dwarfs, and other hybrids such as fox, wolf, deer, lizard, and snake wilders. Some of these are adorable to Davi, some of them are sexy, some a bit of both. This Dark Lord in waiting doesn’t discriminate, at least not in the bedroom.

Past Davi gave her all to try to fulfill old Tserigern the wizard’s stated prophecy and save the kingdom. She’s not feeling great about this, needless to say. Finally at her breaking point, she decides this time in this fresh new life, she’s going to flip this script in a “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” kinda way. Davi sets her mind on becoming the Dark Lord and leading that horde of beastly wilders herself. What does it matter if she fails? She’ll just end up in the same pool of water, with the same wizard in a tattered robe rushing over to her to tell her she’s the chosen one to save the kingdom… again. It’s worth a try, right?

First things first, this time, Davi needs to convince some wilders that she’s up for the job, or at the very least not immediately be killed by the first ones that see her. Davi’s first life having been filled with Netflix and Reddit for activity isn’t helping matters either. Every time she dies, she returns to that same weaker form to start again (Note to self: get in shape before an isekai time loop sucks me into a fantastical world where I have to save everyone).

A few tries and numerous lives later and Davi manages to amass an impressive horde of wilders backing her, using her wily smarts, and some knowledge from her past lives to get her foot in the door. Eventually, she’s well on the path to becoming Dark Lord Davi Morrigan Skulltaker (Yeah, she knows she went too far with that name).

How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying by Django Wexler

Why would these groups of wilders decide to trust her and let this scrawny woman with noodle arms lead them? Aside from the occasional peeks at what happens in different scenarios in different (short) lives, turns out, despite all her failures in the past, Davi is a pretty good leader. Her previous stints of leading the armies of the kingdom against the Dark Lord have left her well prepared.

In addition, unlike other humans in this world, Davi can both use for magic and digest thaumite, a powerful magical crystal that the wilders need to survive. Once she starts digesting the thaumite herself, she becomes stronger and more powerful, like the wilders. Before that point, she mainly has to use her wits to get her way. Swallowing thaumite is a game changer that gives her both cover to help convince the wilders that she’s not actually human despite her outward appearance, and enough power to fight alongside them more effectively. 

Dark Lord in waiting Davi impresses and gains the trust of “sexy bald orc lady” Tsav, and her group of “orcs” first, and builds up her following from there.

Yes, you read that right the bald orc lady is sexy, as is… well, Davi has very varying tastes, we’ll just say that. She is a downright horny Dark Lord to be at that, and doesn’t have any qualms about availing herself of opportunities to relieve her sexual tensions with whoever is willing and able. Before you run away from this review and this book clutching your pearls, the book isn’t actually too graphic in those descriptions, just more hints and teases about it.

An unorthodox lesbian romance, but it works

As mentioned, we have “sexy bald orc lady” Tsav and a horny Dark Lord to be, Davi in this book, and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed the budding romance between the two. Tsav is described as big and muscly with green-grey skin, tusks, and a shaved head. She’s also a wonderful, brave, kind, devoted, thoughtful, earnest character who deeply cares for her people. It’s easy to see why Davi would fall in love with Tsav, orc or not. This, despite Davi herself being rather jaded in matters of love and in general looking for more casual hookups, not long-term relationships with people who might get killed in this brutal world.

Davi does not always make great decisions, especially when it comes to who she spends a wild(er) night or two with, but over the course of the story, she develops as a character and grows. We see she is broken as a person, after several lifetimes of horror and failures, but still trying to be a good leader, and take care of the people in her charge, no matter if they are “monsters” or human. So again, it makes sense that Tsav would find herself being drawn to her as well.

Davi’s also got charisma, and a wicked sense of humor going for her, again, despite the centuries of violence, and torture she’s seen in this never-ending time loop. Davi has been through the ringer in her many lives, (figuratively and possibly literally if there’s a torture machine called the ringer).

But Davi’s not beaten down yet. She’s not so defeated that she’s not still trying to win this “Game of Thrones” situation, which at times feels like a video game where you keep coming back to try again against the final boss. She doesn’t always make the right moves at first, and there are times she’s certainly doing the wrong thing, (that poor wizard…) but it’s easy to like Davi, root for her to succeed, and want to see what happens next.

There are, of course, the usual bumps in the road for this relationship with Tsav, including misunderstandings and a side thing with a foxy fox wilder. Overall, I enjoyed watching this D&D rom-com part of the story unfold, and felt believable in the context of the story. Here’s hoping they stay together in the sequel.

Breaking the 4th wall and humor with footnotes

In How to Become the Dark Lord, we have well choreographed action, we have a believable romance, we have magic crystals, we have an exciting fantasy world, and we have humor. What more do you need in your fantasy novels, right? 

While this is a very funny book, it’s also a book with a lot of dark humor, including about killing and suicide, (see my warning at the beginning). The author warns of such in a preface within the book. Davi has been through a lot, and knows she will be back if she does die, but we don’t get do-overs in real life. This may make this story not for everyone, but if you’re not bothered by sex jokes, foul language, dark humor and some dark needs, then this one might be worth checking out. 

There is also quite a bit of “fourth wall breaking” from Davi throughout the story, reminding me of Deadpool or She-Hulk, suddenly looking to camera, making a joke to the audience and giving a wink. This, like the use of modern language in some fantasy stories, and a certain kind of humor, can be off-putting to some; but again, in this story, it really works and kept me chuckling often.

On the other hand, the humorous footnotes from Davi really are a hoot (the book is written in first person as if The Dark Lord Davi herself is writing it). The footnotes reminded my of my favorite author, Terry Pratchett,and his Discworld series. So much so I wondered if Wexler took some inspiration from there as well as other fantasy stories such as Lord of the Rings or Dungeons and Dragons.

Final thoughts on How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying by Django Wexler

Despite being a bit unsure about the dark humor aspects of it at first, I genuinely loved this book. I’m not the fastest book reader (unlike our amazing book reviewer Luna Gauthier) so I actually bought the audiobook to read with it some of the time. The narrator for the audiobook is fantastic, and was perfect for Davi and provided various great voices for the other characters. Someone give narrator Jeanette Illidge more work immediately. I hope she’s back for the sequel. I’ll be there.

The book ends in a bit of a cliffhanger, as it’s a duology, and there is a preview of the sequel, Everybody Wants to Rule the World Except Me, available in the paperback version I bought. I’m going to eagerly await the continuation of this story, Davi and her horde have me hooked.

My rating: 9/10

How to Become The Dark Lord and Die Trying by Django Wexler is now available most places books are sold from Orbit & Hachette Books. Have you read this book? Will you check it out soon? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus.

Book Review: The Price of Redemption by Shawn Carpenter

THe Price of Redemption by Shawn Carpenter

Suicide Squad Isekai Premiere Review: A Unique Take on DC Characters

Suicide Squad Isekai

Share this:

Lizzie Hill

I'm a lifelong fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book movies. In July 2021, I launched The Cosmic Circus as Editor-In-Chief with a small but passionate group of writers. I am now also the owner/EiC of subdomain site, Cosmic Circus Broadway. @MsLizzieHill on Twitter and Instagram.

Lizzie Hill has 107 posts and counting. See all posts by Lizzie Hill