I have been a big fan of Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series for years now. She is probably the mother of historical fantasy, and no one can write a tale using a medieval setting quite like her. Over the last 3 decades, Kurtz has created some of the most memorable characters (good and evil) that I have ever come across.
In the King's Service will please Kurtz's many fans, even if the book is not her best work to date. But I would not recommend it as a starting point for newcomers. As a matter of fact, the book sets the stage for what is to come and new readers, unfamiliar with both what occurs before and what will take place two generations hence, will indubitably be lost and quickly lose interest. And since the Deryni series is such a grand historical tapestry, it would be a shame. For those interested, be sure to check www.deryni.net for info about the series and other Kurtz novels.
This prequel to Kelson's adventures covers a lot of ground. It sweeps across many years and a plethora of characters, preparing us for the many conflicts to come. Several plotlines will appear quite familiar to fans: Mearan rebels, Torenthi incursions into Gwynedd, the Church's hatred toward Deryni, and a king desperately attempting to protect his lineage. In the King's Service bridges many of the gaps in the Deryni timeline.
We are introduced to King Donal, Brion's father and Kelson's grandfather. In order to fulfill his dynastic needs, the king must often utilize his powers and influence in a ruthless way. It's interesting to see the Camberian Council watching and pulling the strings behind the scenes. We also have the opportunity to see younger versions of a multitude of characters that were introduced in both The Chronicles of the Deryni and The Histories of King Kelson, such as Brion, Nigel, Kevin McLain, Jared McLain, Patrick Corrigan, and many others.
The book is more or less centered around the life of Alyce de Corwyn, who will give birth to one of the most important characters in the entire Deryni saga: Alaric Morgan.
Kurtz's excellent grasp on the workings of medieval church and the inherent conflicts between church and state continue to make the Deryni series so special. As always, the novel contains a richness of details, as well as beautiful and vivid worldbuilding. I will eagerly await the release of the sequel, Childe Morgan.
The final verdict: 8/10