Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
The Dark Lord of Oklahoma is a fun, silly novel that mixes and mends a realistic setting (Oklahoma) with a fantastical scenario involving elves, orcs, and other mythical creatures. A mysterious homeless-looking biker is seen with some identifying him as a legendary high school football player who passed away in combat years ago. A bunch of orcs kidnap our main female protagonist, Elena, who may or may not have elvin roots. Meanwhile, a witch queen appears to want to conquer the world starting, of course, with the Sooner nation!
The premise of this book is, quite frankly, rather ridiculous and difficult to take seriously. Perhaps it's supposed to be. Not every single book needs to be a super-serious epic about characters in life-or-death, end-of-the-world situations or taking on issues like childhood trauma and/or abuse. Sometimes, books need to be a source of joy and entertainment, and this book accomplishes that. It's a breath of fresh air after just reading & reviewing a book about stages of grief and a child's death. It was good timing. It let us loosen up and unwind a bit after being emotionally crushed by another book.
Furthermore, this book had similar vibes to other books we read about cryptids this season. For example, in Frederick Moody, the protagonists were trying to find Big Foot. In Handy Dandy Randy McCrandy, the protagonist had to coexist with the Loch Ness Monster. Similarly, in this book, the character have to contend with the idea that their friendly, mysterious neighborhood homeless person might be more than meets the eye. So, once again, we read this book at such a good time. We'd already read books that helped us to better frame and understand the wild events of the book.
Going back to the mythical “Walking Man,” every neighborhood has that one mysterious, weird person in their town who they either ignore out of fear or end up speculating and making up stories about. In Utah, there's the “Guardian of Liberty Park” who frequents the area in a black robe with a wooden staff like he's Gandalf. He is often conflated with the equally legendary “Horned Wizard” who frequented the city a decade ago. It's always fun to speculate.
This novel really seems inspired by something like that: speculating about weird people and events in the neighborhood.
Now, we have to be honest, this book had a rough start. It skipped from person to person: from Deacon to Elena to Chance. Next thing you know, you've got Sasha, Julie, Zorin, Asher, and more involved. It bounced from thing to thing and event to event. So many strange things were happening and bizarre things were mentioned/highlighted like how unusually strong the weird crossfitting teenagers in the neighborhood were.
There are certain kinds of stories that warrant a large ensemble cast, and this isn't one of them. This book seems to be written almost like a comedy or a satire. A comedy or satire requires a smaller core cast than an epic novel.
Whenever we confront a novel like this that likes to skip around and force us to care about way too many characters, we normally try to simplify things by focusing on the core character and the main plot. We decided to mostly follow Elena, the teacher who is abducted early on, since she seemed to be the most human and, thus, relatable of the characters. Her arc seems to be the most believable and interesting as you can really jive with the idea of a failed musician and disgruntled teacher suddenly learning that they have a larger, more important role in the world than initially thought. Also, she apparently has the most gorgeous green eyes known to man, so might be a candidate for “Hottest Character” along with Sasha.
Asher Cries-for-War obviously has a coolness factor and edginess to him too similar to an 80s action star (i.e. Arnold or Sly). Apparently, the author is a bit of an action-hero in their own right, being a former soldier and paratrooper for the US military.
The characters that bizarrely won our hearts and minds the most were the orcs. This book actually did something that very few have ever done: humanizing the big, bad, ugly, mean ole' orcs. Well, they're not just any orcs, they're the Son, but you know what we mean.
These orcs seem to reject or resist their sadistic & cannibalistic drives, facts which are often played for laughs. They're actually so kind and caring of Elena that she almost develops a sort of Stockholm syndrome for them. You can really tell that they're the heroes of their own story and—in their minds—are doing what's “right.” Elden Orchenkind and Gorgon Bartok are definitely a presence in the book.
This book also features the AA-12, a remarkable automatic shotgun that the US Army hasn't adopted for some reason.
The thing about this book is that it may have tried to do too much. It's almost like its execution didn't fit the genre. People don't watch Barney and expect there to be a dozen main characters with four or five plot threads, they watch Barney to see Barney and his familiar friends sing familiar songs and stuff. They don't watch Teletubbies expecting the episode to feature like three big, plot-altering, world-breaking reveals. They watch it because they find the Teletubbies cute and want to relax and unwind watching them frolic through their seemingly monotonous journeys. This book almost seems like it can't decide whether it wants to be serious or a comedy. Well, we couldn't help but find it comedic. For example, the author uses the word “ejaculated” in place of the word “said” at least twice, completely going against Stephen King's recommendations. We couldn't help but laugh out loud about that.
The book, while grammatically sound, suffers structurally from a lack of indentations between paragraphs.
There were times it did remind us of something like Disney's Enchanted.
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