Friday 17 February 2012

Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz

Deryni Rising is the first novel in the long Deryni fantasy saga. The first trilogy (known as The Chronicles of the Deryni) was published between 1970 and 1973 and has since been followed by three other complete trilogies plus a fourth still underway, as well as a stand-alone novel, short stories, fan-fiction and reference works. In short, a complete and constantly expanding fantasy world. I read the first trilogy in the mid-1970s at least twice and loved it, so I thought it would be interesting to see how it stood up today after a gap of nearly forty years.

The setting is an alternate world generally corresponding with the Celtic culture of a thousand years ago, with one key addition: the existence of the Deryni, a race of people human in all respects except for some formidable magical abilities. A couple of centuries before, a long period of Deryni rule had ended in revolt and most of the Deryni had been killed in retaliation. The survivors had abandoned their magical practices or gone into hiding, condemned by the Church. At the start of the story there is just one acknowledged half-Deryni with magical powers, General Alaric Morgan the Duke of Corwyn, protected by his close friendship with King Brion of Gwynedd. The line of Gwynedd kings has a secret - although human, they maintain a tradition of passing on to their heirs the ability to acquire Deryni powers using a technique learned in the last days of Deryni rule.

I don't want to describe the plot as that would immediately involve spoilers, so I'll just say that Morgan, the principal character, faces constant suspicion, the opposition of some powerful individuals and the deadly emnity of a Deryni sorceress in his efforts to defend the monarchy.

So how did the novel stand up? Well, I picked it up one evening expecting to read for an hour or so and didn't put the book down until I'd finished it in the early hours of the morning. That very rarely happens to me, and indicates that it was just as exciting and entertaining as I remembered. The story is fast-moving and, although it has some darker moments, is generally light with a straightforward plot. It is eminently suitable for young adults as well as for older folk, particularly as it features a strong teenage character, Prince Kelson.

I expect I'll go on to read the other two novels in the first trilogy, as I still have those and recall them to be just as good as the first. I also read a few of the later books in the 1970s, but found them less satisfying so didn't keep them. The action slowed down and the focus shifted more towards religion and the description of its practices, which the author evidently found a lot more fascinating than I did. Still, the first trilogy has my strong recommendation.

1 comment:

Bill Garthright said...

Like you, I loved that book - the whole trilogy - when I first read it decades ago, so it's good to know that it still holds up, Tony.

I'll definitely have to reread it sometime. Thanks for the review!