'The King's Deryni', Katherine Kurtz
Katherine Kurtz is one of the mainstays of fantasy publishing, but unlike many popular fantasy authors, she publishes sparingly, so the third and final volume of her 'Childe Morgan' trilogy has been eagerly (if not always patiently) awaited by her many fans for almost eight years now. At a little over 500 pages, and coming as it does with promises to wrap up a variety of storylines and answer a miriade of questions in the process, 'The King's Deryni' certainly does not disappoint.
As unreservedly impressed as I was by what proved to be a great read, I have to say that readers entirely new to Kurtz and her fictional, medieval fantasy settings should think twice before plunging headfirst into the waters of Gwynedd via 'The King's Deryni'. It concludes a trilogy, the first two volumes of which are required reading, and it rounds out (for now, at least) a series of five trilogies, one stand-alone-novel, and two collections of short stories, the first instalments of which were published in the early 1970s. That is not to say that new readers won't enjoy Kurtz immensely, but rather to employ the advice of the old Irish farmer when asked how to get to a particular town ("Ah, well, sir ... Sure, an' if I were you, I wouldn't start from here!"). Instead, readers coming to Kurtz for the first time would be better advised to begin with her earliest publication, 'Deryni Rising' (1970), or perhaps with the first of the internal-chronology of novels, 'Camber of Culdi' (1976). At a push, 'The Bishop's Heir' (1984), the first in her 'Histories of King Kelson' might also serve as a viable launch pad, and thankfully, such remains her popularity that all of her Deryni novels are still readily available in paperback from most good stockists.
For the hardened fan (and here I have to admit to something of a guilty pleasure, for I've been reading Kurtz since the mid-eighties myself), 'The King's Deryni' is not only a gem, but a gem of considerable substance. At twice the size of the last two offerings - 'In the King's Service' (2003), and 'Childe Morgan' (2006) - this volume promised to fill a considerable gap in our knowledge of the early year's of King Brion's reign, and to reintroduce us to a cast of familiar characters - Kenneth Morgan, Alaric's father, Brion, Duke Richard, and, of course, the young Alaric himself - alongside a host of new ones - his companions at court, his growing family, and one or two less savoury characters as well. Major sub-plots, only hinted at in earlier volumes, were allowed to unfold, and while offering no spoilers, let it suffice to say that in the course of 'The King's Deryni' we finally learn the fate of Kelson's aunt, Xenia, hitherto only hinted at in the genealogies appended to earlier books, we learn of Alaric's early run-ins with Oliver de Norde, who will rise to be Archbishop of Valoret by the end of the book, and we meet the young Jehane, who will be Kelson's mother in due course, and whose strongly held views on the Deryni and their magical abilities will have such an influence on her son's life.
Fans of one character in particular, Duncan McLain, will be pleased to know that 'The King's Deryni' fleshes out what we already knew of his early years, and his perilous path towards ordination, in the face of heavy (and occasionally mortal) opposition from Church authorities. Kurtz is by no means the first fantasy author to have produced a working model of the Catholic Church within her fictional medieval setting - Keith Roberts arguably produced one of the first with the publication of 'Pavane' (1966), and others since, including John Winterbourne - 'A Dangerous Energy' (1992), and 'To Build Jerusalem' (1995) - have built something of a sub-genre from it. Yet none of them go into the detail that Kurtz does. All of her main characters live cheek-to-jowel with the religious establishments of the day, and you can almost smell the incence as the workings of the Church unfold in her prose.
'The King's Deryni' adds weight and a wealth of valuable information to a series that was already brimming over with both. As such, it is a welcome addition to the Deryni canon, and we can only hope that it will be significantly less than eight years before we have the next instalment from Kurtz in front of us.
'The King's Deryni' will be published in hardback by Ace on 2nd December 2014.