I've been a big fan of this series for well over two decades and it's always with great pleasure that I return to the Deryni universe. Now 40+ years in the making, Katherine Kurtz's landmark series seldom fails to satisfy longtime fans. Unfortunately, although she is arguably the mother of historical fantasy, over the years the NYT bestselling Deryni saga has become out of print and thus always harder and harder to find. It's a sad state of affairs, for that means that an entire generation of SFF readers have yet to get acquainted with this classic tale.
Even worst, other than the very first trilogy (which, truth to tell, is by far the weakest in the saga) having been reissued in recent years, what Deryni novels still in print (King Kelson's Bride, In the King's Service, and Childe Morgan) are more or less meant to bridge various gaps in the saga's timeline instead of focusing on new storylines that could perhaps entice new readers to plunge into the Deryni universe and fall in love with it and the great characters that populate its history. Indeed, this latest trilogy doesn't really provide a good jump-in point for newcomers. As a result, because there are no digital editions of the installments which made this a bestselling book sequence, fantasy fans wanting to give the series a shot have no choice but to track down used copies. There are hundreds of them on Amazon and other online retailers, true, but in 2014 this seems to represent a whole lot of legwork to get your hands on quality reads. . .
Here's the blurb:
New York Times bestselling author Katherine Kurtz’s novels of the Deryni have been hailed by Anne McCaffrey as “an incredible historical tapestry of a world that never was and of immensely vital people who ought to be.” Now Kurtz weaves a thrilling conclusion to the epic Childe Morgan trilogy, in which bonds of both magic and loyalty will be put to the ultimate test… Alaric Morgan always knew his purpose in life—to stand alongside the king of Gwynedd. The old king knew that whichever of his sons succeeded to the throne would benefit from having a Deryni at his side. Alaric and the young Prince Brion Haldane were bound together by magic—a magic to be called upon when Brion was most in need. Now eighteen, Brion has ascended to the throne and seven-year-old Alaric has come to court. Through the coming years, both will grow to manhood and come to realize their destinies. Brion will strive to solidify his power and position, seek out a bride to secure his legacy, and ultimately, when faced with an unbeatable foe, call upon Alaric to fulfill his oath. Meanwhile, Alaric slowly learns the extent of his powers and how to use them, and will face the prejudice that many have against Deryni in its ugliest form. He will experience bittersweet first love, great personal loss, and the hard lessons one gains from both. And he will be there to unleash the full power of his Deryni magic at Brion’s command. For Alaric is—and always will be—the King’s Deryni.
As yet another prequel to The Deryni Chronicles trilogy, like its two predecessors The King's Deryni covers a number of years, paving the way for all that's to come. Once again, familiar themes such as Mearan rebels, the Camberian Council's machinations, Torenthi incursions into Gwynedd, the Church's hatred toward Deryni, the separation between Church and State, and a monarch desperately trying to secure his throne and his legacy all feature quite prominently in this new novel. This last volume in the Childe Morgan trilogy focuses on Alaric's formative years and is spread across his childhood and teenage years, as we follow his rise from a young and innocent boy to a page, then a squire, then a knight, all the way to his becoming Duke of Corwyn.
As a matter of course, the author's historian eye for details makes for incredible and vivid worldbuilding. The richness of details and her depiction of medieval life have always been something that characterize Katherine Kurtz's writing. This particular aspect creates a wonderful imagery which brings the world and its protagonists to life in a manner that very few SFF writers can emulate, let alone surpass. Having said that, I'm afraid that at times Kurtz sort of got lost chronicling the minutiae of Alaric and Brion's lives, which had a tendency of breaking the rhythm of the book. This latest installment likely ended up being longer than it should have been and hence it is not paced as adroitly as the first two volumes.
As I mentioned in the past, although Katherine Kurtz's worldbuilding skills are on par with those of gifted fantasy authors such as Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin, and R. Scott Bakker, it's the characterization which elevates her books over that of the competition and makes the Deryni Saga one of my favorite series of all time. Not unlike Robin Hobb and Guy Gavriel Kay, Kurtz's subtle human touch can pull on those heartstrings when you least expect it. Few of her peers, past and present, have the ability to create such genuine protagonists that you come to love/hate the way Katherine Kurtz can. King Brion and Alaric Morgan take center stage, of course, and yet the tale unfolds through the eyes of a number of other characters, chief among them Sir Kenneth Morgan and Sir Llion Farquahar, Alaric's governor and companion. Given their importance in what is to come, it was a lot of fun to see the interaction between Alaric and Duncan McLain as they grow up.
Most of the extraneous stuff I alluded to was meant to tie up all those loose ends and pave the way for what will take place in Deryni Rising and the rest of the first trilogy. It was also meant to bridge some of the gaps between the King Brion and Kelson's timeline and that focusing on Saint Camber and its aftermath. Amid all the politicking, there are a number of poignant moments in The King's Deryni. Sadly, one needs to sift through a lot of filler material to get to them. As was the case in Childe Morgan, Sir Sé Trelawney, childhood friend of Lady Alyce, Alaric's dead mother, and a fully avowed Knight of the Anvil, somehow manages to steal the show in every scene featuring him.
In the end, The King's Deryni does a good job tying up most of the loose ends to bridge the gaps between the Camber and the Kelson timelines. However, all that filler material, though it serves a purpose, takes a little something away from the overall reading experience. Hence, longtime fans of the series will be happy to revisit the Eleven Kingdoms again. But I doubt that this latest Deryni series can/will reel in lots of newbies.
As I mentioned before, I encourage everyone to give the Deryni Saga a shot. Believe you me: You won't be disappointed! Get it from the library, or buy it for peanuts via the links below or at used bookstores. But read it! For the best results, start with The Legends of Camber of Culdi, followed by The Heirs of Saint Camber. If it's your cup of tea, you'll need no further encouragement to read the rest of the Deryni Saga!