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I read a book quite a while ago about a typical fantasy world that somehow had a connection to a modern world, and modern people would go on tours where they would be a "hero", taking part in staged battles and ultimately defeating an evil lord.

Specific details I remember:

  • The tours also worked as hit contract fulfillment. Some tourists were targeted and would be actually killed during these battles because somebody had paid for it. In a particular scene, some of the "good" men bring a tourist to the leader of the "evil" elves(Or maybe men) who casually kills him.
  • A lot of the story was from the viewpoint of the "evil lord" character, who is actually basically just a wizard working an acting job. Tourists make it to him at the end of the tour, and he sets it up so that they can really obviously push him into a pit where they think he dies, but he just hides and does the same thing for the next group.
  • At the end, the tours get shut down due to monopoly enforcement I believe.

I initially thought this was a Discworld book, but I haven't found any with a similar sounding synopsis. Still, there might be some type of connection. Or not.

  • @Valorum Definitely some similarities, but that's not it. The POV character isn't actually a villain, just plays one for the tours. And I don't think there are many or obvious pop-culture references. – Cain Aug 9 at 17:54
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You're looking for Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones. The world in which it is set is forced to act like her earlier book, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which might have contributed to you thinking of it as a satire like Discworld.*

Book cover for *Dark Lord of Derkholm*

A fantasy world is dominated by its destructive tourist industry. "Mr. Chesney's Pilgrim Parties" arrange for annual group tours, evidently from our world, to experience all the cliches: wise Wizard Guides, attacks from Leathery-Winged Avians, the Glamorous Enchantress, the evil Dark Lord. It is a devastating show: farmlands are laid waste, people slain, and so on.

....

In a meeting about the Pilgrim Parties, High Chancellor Querida takes a wizard, a high priest and a thief to see the Oracles, who determine that the next person the group sees will play the role of the Dark Lord, and the second person will be the Wizard Guide that they need. They meet Wizard Derk, who has taken his son Blade to see the Oracles, who say that he will be coached by Deucalion.

Derk undertakes to "evil-fy" his home, Derkholm, for its role as the Dark Lord's capital. He summons a demon to bind there, but it escapes. An ancient dragon mistakes him for a ruling Dark Lord, takes offense when it learns the commercial truth, and burns Derk so badly that he cannot play Dark Lord or help with other arrangements. His children take over.

....

Back at Derkholm, father Derk is badly depressed by the apparent death of Kit, and does not carry out any of the Dark Lord's duties, nor eat, sleep, or wash. Pilgrims are camped in the valley, having been barred from the Dark Citadel by Derk, and many denizens of fantasyland (Dragons, Elves and Dwarves) have gathered in the Dark Citadel or its vicinity, by the time Mr. Chesney arrives to assess the situation and determines to levy fines. Deucalion, the dragon helps the demon in Mr. Chesney's pocket escape and return to its mate, the one that Wizard Derk summoned. The gods, which Mr. Chesney had demanded to appear, show up and shrinks him, and leaves with him.

And yes, there are arranged "accidents":

On top of that comes insurance, and the bribes paid to make people ‘expendable’, or set to be killed during the tour.

It was followed by Year of the Griffin, where Elda, Derk's daughter, goes to a magical university.

  • Amazing, this is it, thanks! I think the magical university also gave me Discworld vibes. – Cain Aug 9 at 22:44
  • @Cain: It's a good book. I read it after reading the Tough Guide to Fantasyland. – FuzzyBoots Aug 9 at 23:13
  • @Cain: Also, if you don't mind, don't forget to accept the answer when you decide it's the correct one. I'm actually kind of surprised this hasn't come up before... – FuzzyBoots Aug 10 at 12:39
  • Absolutely. Is the 24 hour waiting policy still an expectation on story-id questions? Not as familiar with this particular stack, sorry :) – Cain Aug 12 at 15:00
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    @Cain: My opinion is that it all depends on how definite it is. If it's a "yeah, that sort of fits all the points... but that name doesn't sound familiar at all or the other plot points you mention", I'd say hold off to encourage more answers. If it's a "Dang it... that's the cover! And I forgot about the dwarf-tossing contest but I do recall it now!", then I generally accept immediately with the idea that I can change my mind later. :-D – FuzzyBoots Aug 12 at 15:08

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