Deryni Rising: Classic high epic fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Katherine Kurtz Deryni RisingDeryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz

Katherine Kurtz is truly a mistress of fantasy — she’s been writing high epic fantasy for 40 years and should be considered one of the post-Tolkien “parents” of our genre.

The setting of the Deryni saga is an alternate medieval Europe (clearly analogous to our medieval England and Wales) and the Deryni are a magical race who look just like, and can interbreed with, humans. They have been persecuted for years by the Church (clearly meant to be our medieval Catholic church) and most people with Deryni blood choose to hide and/or deny their lineage and magical powers.

The plot is simple: in the prologue, King Brion (King of Gwynned) is killed by the evil Deryni sorceress Charissa who wants his throne. Charissa plans to challenge Brion’s 14-year old son (and heir) Kelson to a magical duel during Kelson’s coronation. If she wins, no one can stop her from making herself ruler of Gwynned. Kelson and his friends must decode Brion’s poetic message and find the objects and information required to unleash Kelson’s magical powers before he has to face Charissa. Charissa has some minions to help her, including one who’s highly placed in Kelson’s regency council.

I’ve been meaning to read Deryni for years, and I wish I had started earlier when I would have appreciated it a little more. The beginning of this massive epic was published “before my time” and so I missed it when I’m sure it would have seemed fresh and new. Now, reading Deryni Rising as an adult, it seems a little heavy and old-fashioned, but occasionally I’m in the mood for that sort of thing.

The writing is not particularly vivid in this first novel (I flipped through a later book and noticed that the writing was much more polished, as would be expected). The omniscient narrator jumps around from point-of-view to point-of-view, explaining everyone’s thoughts and motives and leaving no room for mystery, suspense, or the chance for me to deduce something on my own. For a 12th century medieval setting, there was also some jarring modern word usage (and even a couple of Americanisms) in the dialogue: “itemizing,” “far-fetched,” “parameters,” “invalidated,” “interface,” “calculating,” “variables,” “capitalized.” I was mentally thrust out of the story every time I read one of those.

While Kelson is quite likeable and Morgan, his Deryni advisor, is actually intriguing, most of the characters are two-dimensional. The good guys are very good and the bad guys are very bad. There is no in-between. This is something else that I suspect will improve based on what I know about the future volumes.

These are minor complaints and I should temper them by saying that I am sure I would have liked Deryni Rising if I had read it several years ago, or perhaps when I was just in the mood for this type of story. The writing is clear, the characters likeable, and the adventure is interesting. Particularly thought-provoking is the idea that the Catholic church might be able to live side-by-side with “the Occult” if the Deryni use their God-given powers for good instead of evil. If hope (and expect) that future Deryni novels will explore this idea further.

I recommend Deryni Rising for those who enjoy YA fantasy. I can’t speak for how appropriate the sequels are, but Deryni Rising can act as a stand-alone novel since there is no cliff-hanger at the end (thank you for that, Mrs. Kurtz!).

The Deryni Chronicles — (1970-2014) Publisher: For more than 30 years, The Deryni Chronicles have transported readers to a world of secret sorcery and courtly intrigue. Deryni Rising, the first book in the series, launched Katherine Kurtz’s phenomenal, bestselling career. Now, with this special edition, including a new introduction by the author, fans of the series can revel anew in the dawning of an epic…

The Chronicles of the Deryni (1970-1973) (about King Kelson, Morgan, Duncan)

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The Histories of King Kelson (1984-2000)  (about King Kelson, Morgan, Duncan)

Katherine Kurtz Deryni The Histories of King Kelson: The Bishop's Heir, The King's Justice, Quest for Saint CamberKatherine Kurtz Deryni The Histories of King Kelson: The Bishop's Heir, The King's Justice, Quest for Saint CamberKatherine Kurtz Deryni The Histories of King Kelson: The Bishop's Heir, The King's Justice, Quest for Saint Camber fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

The Legends of Camber of Culdi (1976-1981)

Katherine Kurtz Deryni: The Legends of Camber of Culdi, Saint Camber, Camber the HereticKatherine Kurtz Deryni: The Legends of Camber of Culdi, Saint Camber, Camber the HereticKatherine Kurtz Deryni: The Legends of Camber of Culdi, Saint Camber, Camber the Heretic

The Heirs of Saint Camber (1989-1994)

The Heirs of Saint Camber: The Harrowing of Gwynedd, King Javan's Year, The Bastard PrinceThe Heirs of Saint Camber: The Harrowing of Gwynedd, King Javan's Year, The Bastard PrinceThe Heirs of Saint Camber: The Harrowing of Gwynedd, King Javan's Year, The Bastard Prince

Childe Morgan (2004-2014)

Childe Morgan: In the King's Service, Childe MorganChilde Morgan: In the King's Service, Childe Morgan Katherine Kurtz Derynifantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Related:

Katherine Kurtz Deryni Codex Derynianus


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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