Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dragonspell by Katharine Kerr #review

Title: Dragonspell: The Southern Sea/The Dragon Revenant (Deverry #4)
Author: Katharine Kerr
Publisher: Voyager, 1990

Finally, I can now say I’ve read the first four books in the Deverry Cycle – in their chronological order. These four books form act one, which Katharine Kerr subheads as “Deverry”. And now, looking back to when I first read these during my mid-teens and now, 20 or so very odd years later, I realise exactly what a huge influence they were on me, for wanting to be an author of epic fantasy. (I admit to love the idea of exploring past life relationships for characters, and this is a story seed for my Those Who Return series.)

Also, what struck me about Kerr’s Deverry Cycle is her envisioning of a magic system, which as far as fantasy magic systems go, is extremely well thought out, even if the dualistic light vs. dark, good vs. evil split is evident. Contemporary fantasy has, to a large degree, moved on from this sort of worldview, but in this regard I think it’s fine if you look at when the novels were first published.

Dragonspell is a culmination of all the events of the preceding books, but without the flashbacks to past lives. Rhodry has been kidnapped and whisked across the ocean to Bardek, where he has had his memories wiped. He spends a fair portion of the book a clueless slave owned by a rich widow (and you can well imagine that his good looks will appeal to her). Jill, with Rhodry’s half-brother Salamander, have made the perilous crossing across the ocean and are actively hunting Rhodry, because the death of Rhodry’s other half-brother back home means that his time in exile is over. Rhodry’s return means his taking on responsibilities that will prevent the outbreak of war, so it’s a bit of a race against time to see him returned.

Of course there are bigger problems at play. Rhodry is but a pawn in the longstanding struggle between the dweomers of light and dark, with Nevyn finally coming up against the rather sinister Old One. All the while, Jill is slowly discovering that she has a real knack for the dweomer herself, and by the time she reaches the end of her journey, she has a terrible decision to make. Will she marry Rhodry and live happily ever after as his wife, or will she pursue her magical studies and fulfil Nevyn’s centuries’-old vow to bring her to the dweomer?

That she can’t have both becomes apparent from quite early on, and it’s terrific watching her grow as a character in a milieu where women traditionally do not possess much freedom. Jill is a prime example of an empowered female character.

Kerr, in my mind, is possibly one of the greatest and unsung masters of fantasy, and if you’ve fallen in love with names such as Kate Elliot, Karen Miller and Robin Hobb, and have yet to discover Kerr, then do yourself a favour and begin with the first four books in the 15-book Deverry Cycle.

Here you’ll discover a world steeped in Celtic lore, with elves, dwarves and magic. Great battles and loves are interwoven and we are privy to the growth of characters through their many lives as they come to terms with their collective wyrd. Though there is a linear plot, there are diversions to events in the past, which all inform the primary narrative arc, and make this one of my firm favourites in the fantasy genre that absolutely deserves a permanent and prominent place in any serious fantasy collection.

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