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Deverry (Kerr)

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Posted by Orpheo (21st Jan 2002, 12:21)

Originally published in Wyrmtongue January 2002.

It was just before my eleventh Birthday that I really immersed myself in the science fiction/fantasy world. I remember, way back in the mists of time, walking into the branch of W.H.Smiths on Parchment Street in Winchester (deepest, darkest Hampshire, if you are wondering) and wandering up to the books section to kill some time. I was never a book person before that moment, the only reading I did prior to then was done under extreme duress. I was absentmindedly browsing the small collection of paperbacks they had when one book caught my eye. It was not really the book as such but the cover. It depicted two people on horseback gazing across a lake at sunset, up to a silhouetted castle in the mountains beyond. The cover was so stunning that I could not take my eyes off it (I still think it is one of the best book covers I have ever seen) and in the end, in an uncharacteristic impulse for the time, I bought the book. When I got home, I flicked through the first few pages.. by the end of the tenth I could not put it down; by the hundredth, one murder, two suicides, and one incestuous relationship later, I was hooked.

The book, entitled "Daggerspell", turned out to be the first in a series of books by the American author Katherine Kerr, who to this day remains one of my all time favourite authors. The "Deverry" series now stretches to eleven books, begins in the first four by folliowng the adventures of the four hundred year old magician, Nevyn, who after causing the death of three people in his youth, vows to pay for his sins by putting right his wrongs when their souls are reborn. This leads him and the reader around the kingdom of Deverry and through the winding politics of the realm, from small provincial bickerings to the greature threat from the dark magicians of the islands of the Bardek Archipelago. The next four books follows life of one of those reincarnated souls, Rhodry Maelwaedd, a prince from the southern province of Eldidd. After escaping from his kingdom after people begin to suspect a connection between him and the misunderstood arts of magic he finds himself embroiled in an invasion by strange creatures from the north and the elemental spirit that leads them. The last three books continue to follow Rhodry Maelwaedd and his involvement with a shape changing witch from the west. Sounds like your average fantasy fare? Well, yes, but there are a few details which set it slightly apart from the other fantasy books that I have read. In acknowledgement of her Welsh heritage the author has based her stories firmly in the realms of Celtic mythology. In light of this she has managed to avoid some of the archtypal fantasy ideas, such as overly heroic, invincible characters. The characters in the series are identifiably good" and "bad" but even the "good" are flawed. Some of you may like the escapism of "perfect people" but in my opinion the imperfections make the characters more real, and more easily identifiable with. Furthermore it is dark! I know most fantasy can get violent at times but most authors seem to keep an upbeat mood throughout (probably due to the good characters knowing that they are invincible!). The "Deverry" series does have some truly unpleasant moments (Ok not as unpleasant as Banks but there is little that I have read that is as unpleasant as Banks...). This leads to a somewhat unsettling tale and in some ways a more satisfying one.

The series is of truly epic proportions, but stories of this scale always make me wary. It is so often the case that the first book is dazzling while the sequels' quality quickly flags before disappearing through the floor as publishers' deadlines loom and ideas dry up. (As an example I call upon Raymond E. Feist's amazing work "Magician" and its two dull and cliched sequels, "Silverthorn" and "A Darkness at Sethanon"). The "Deverry" Series, however, does not seem to go the way of most epics. Over the eight books of the series that I read (at the time it was all that had been written) it managed to keep up the inventiveness and pace of the first. The writing style is very idiosyncratic. It sort of takes the form of highly arcane colloquialisms, couple that to the Celtic based names and it sounds like a recipe for a serious headache, but it is actually a surprisingly easy read. There is something about her writing that lures the reader in, and one page flows to the next and suddenly you begin wondering where the book has gone. I think it is a wonderful series and if you are a fantasy fan, well worth a look...


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- Daggerspell

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About author:

- Kerr, Katherine

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