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 LAST UPDATE  4/3/22

The King’s Deryni by Katherine Kurtz, Ace, 2014  

The final story of the young Alaric Morgan, who would become chief adviser to two kings of Gwynedd.  This is another anecdotal novel with a fairly weak plot. King Brion gets a bit older and finds a bride. Alaric Morgan grows into his teens and begins to master his Deryni powers. The church persecutes more Deryni. Several people die of natural causes. There is intrigue at the royal court. The pretender to the throne makes trouble until he is killed in a duel with Brion. The rebels in Meara are restless and get away with murdering one of Brion’s closest supporters. Brion’s younger sister gets seduced. 4/3/22

Childe Morgan by Katherine Kurtz, Ace, 2006 

Alaric Morgan features in some of the earlier books in this series as friend of King Brion and then his son, Kelson. He is only a toddler in this one and although in some ways he is the focus of the story, he actually doesn’t have much of a part to play. The church is dominated by evil men once again and the pogroms against the Deryni are getting underway. A good deal of this is repetitive and the novel is more anecdotal than usual. Although the middle volume of a trilogy, it would be several years before the final volume appeared. More detail about the setting and background for the characters, but not much knew in terms of the plot. 3/28/22

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake, Tor, 2022, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-250-85451-3

Here we have a rather offbeat fantasy and I believe it's the author's first adult novel. Six contestants are competing for five membership slots in a secret society. The competition is complex and involves loyalties and betrayalas. The characters are also blends of good and bad, and most readers are going to find their sympathies shifting from one to another as the story progresses. The background is rich in detail and nicely consistent. The plot is quite involving, although a bit slow to really get underway in the opening chapters. This is a very promising debut novel and I recommend it, but with the caveat that it is the first half of a duology, so there is no satisfying climax. You'll have to wait for the second book. 3/23/22

In the King’s Service by Katherine Kurtz, Ace, 2003 

Beginning of a new trilogy, set after Camber but before Kelson.  The story is once again largely about court politics. The king is rather an anti-hero – he kills an adviser who discovers the king is sleeping with his wife, then covers it up even though he feels badly about it. There is an inevitable conspiracy against the throne, which is discovered in due course and dealt with decisively. Morgan – who is a major characters in some earlier novels – is born and his Deryni heritage causes some tension.. The church is not quite as tyrannical and the Deryni are not quite as unpopular, but otherwise it is very much like the earlier books. 3/22/22

The Bastard Prince by Katherine Kurtz, Del Rey, 1994 

Whenever Kurtz moved an admirable character to the forefront, there was a good chance that this was so they could be killed off. King Javan died one year into his reign in the book before this, and King Rhys doesn’t make it to the end either. The regents and the church hierarchy are the chief villains, although a pretender to the throne from a neighboring kingdom stirs up even more trouble. This was the second best book in the series so far, although the ending seemed a bit rushed and did not provide sufficient payoff for the very long build up. 3/17/22

King Javan’s Year by Katherine Kurtz, Del Rey, 1992

Despite the usual padding, I thought this was the best of the Deryni novels so far. Young King Alroy has died and despite the opposition of church leaders and the regents, his brother Javan leaves the religious life to assume the throne. This involves a good deal of politicking, a touch of magic, a duel or two and assorted other violence, and the assistance of the children of Saint Camber. The ceremonies are frequent but not as prolonged and Javan has a more interesting personality than the previous protagonists. There are even a couple of plot twists that I never saw coming. 3/13/22

The Harrowing of Gwynedd by Katherine Kurtz, Del Rey, 1989

Tensions between human and Deryni are rising and the children of Camber of Culdi think that they might be able to magically restore him to life. Given his mixed success when alive, one might wonder why they bother. Prince Javan begins to master his own control of magic and grows more assertive. The regents for the child king Alroy are using their powers to purge the kingdom of Deryni influence and perhaps to ensure that they will maintain control even once he is crowned. An ancient tomb reveals many secrets. Not a lot gets resolved. Javan decides he has a vocation in the church, but only because he expects to have more influence there. 3/10/22

Fluke by James Herbert, Signet, 1977 

I thought this was boring when I first read it forty years. On rereading and reconsideration, I think it is actually VERY boring and more than a little silly. A murdered man is reincarnated as a dog and is eventually driven to expose his killer and save his human family. None of this happens until the final quarter of the book, after various not very interesting doggy adventures and episodes of talking cats, rats, and badgers. They actually made a movie of this and the premise – wasted for most of the book – is potentially interesting but never realized. 3/2/22

Phoenix Rising by Ryk E. Spoor, Baen, 2012

This quest novel is the first in a series. Most quest novels strike me as excessively serious in tone and slowly paced. I can't apply either of those complaints here. The plot moves quickly and adventurously, there is an upbeat undertone in even the most dire situations, and there are spots of humor. The characters, though mostly not deeply drawn, are properly differentiated and even stereotypes are based on reality so I had no trouble accepting them as people. I do like the author's SF better than his fantasy, but that is true of almost everyone who writes in both genres. This is longish and develops its setting in considerable detail, although without lengthy infodumps. This strikes me as the kind of book to read on a lazy day at the beach. 2/26/22

Polychrome by Ryk E. Spoor, Land of Fire, 2015   

Every once in a while someone decides to revisit Oz, the land beyond the rainbow. This is a fairly ambitious novel – and written for adults – and involves two villains who apparently appeared in earlier books. It has been decades since I read the series and I don’t remember much after the first couple. Oz has been captured, but there is one person who stands against them, and who has a very unusual power that might tip the balance. I confess I could not take this entirely seriously because scene from the movie kept popping into my head. It’s a worthy addition to the venerable series though and worth chasing down. 2/22/22 

The Quest for Saint Camber by Katherine Kurtz, Del Rey, 1986

King Kelson is missing and presumed dead. His uncle is in line for the throne, but is sent into a magical coma by his ambitious and unscrupulous son. The king eventually comes back and executes the traitor. Several more pointless, lengthy ceremonies pad out a novel that is about twice as long as it needed to be. Kelson is thwarted in love, again. Various other ongoing conflicts continue without being resolved.  There is a good deal of repetition in the series, with the same enemies appearing in different identities. 2/22/22

The King’s Justice by Katherine Kurtz, Del Rey, 1985 

King Kelson is preparing to go to war against the rebel province in this frankly very tedious novel. His mother reappears in public after three years absence and becomes an absurd caricature. He is involved in some more lengthy, dull ceremonies. He suspects a vassal state is considering treachery. His friends are having visions. He deals with each challenge eventually, but kings in this series are consistently ineffectual or at best have successes that are tinged with bad consequences. I don’t understand how Deryni can be considered non-human because they can use magic, but Deryni magical powers can be transferred to a human. 2/14/22

The Bishop’s Heir by Katherine Kurtz, Del Rey, 1984 

First in a trilogy that deals with the reign of King Kelson. One of the regions within Gwynedd has become restive as a local aristocrat decides to secede and set up a separate kingdom. They are assisted by the evil church leader from the first trilogy, who has escaped confinement and now establishes a separate and competing church hierarchy. Kelson attempts to find a non-violent way to end the crisis, but naturally he fails. More pointless ceremonies pad out a story that struck me as a retread of issues from the earlier book, and it ends with the conflict unresolved and the tragic death of the queen-to-be. 2/9/22

Camber the Heretic by Katherine Kurtz, Del Rey, 1981 

The second trilogy ends with a major political shift. The somewhat benevolent king is dying and his sons are not old enough to rule on their own. Camber knows that the council of regents is intensely anti-Deryni and as soon as the king dies, he is expelled from their number and pogroms begin. Much intrigue follows including the provision of magical powers to the king’s heirs, plots involving them, bad Deryni stoking the fires against their own people, and the church as well as the populace split into rival factions. Very slow moving and fleshed out with unnecessary and sometimes uninteresting material about magical ceremonies and church politics.  2/2/22

Saint Camber by Katherine Kurtz, Del Rey, 1978 

The evil king is dead but his replacement is bitter about having given up his vocation as a monk, ambivalent about the use of magic, prone to outbursts of cruel temper, and on top of that the king’s sister has raised an army against the throne. She is disposed of quite early in the book but Camber is forced to shapechange in order to bolster up the new government. The king is a constant whiner with a cruel streak – he kills prisoners for no reason – and it is not clear to me that he was any better than the tyrant they deposed. The story is seriously impeded by long religious and magical ceremonies described in great detail, usually to no real purpose insofar as the plot is concerned. 1/29/22

Camber of Culdi by Katherine Kurtz, Ballantine, 1976

The opening volume of the second Deryni trilogy takes place two centuries earlier. The Deryni ruler is cruel and quite possibly insane. Camber is an aristocrat whose son becomes aware that the former ruling family, the Haldanes, is not extinct after all. He tracks down the last of them, a monk unaware of his true identity. Although he resists for a long time, he is finally compelled to abandon his religious calling and lead a successful coup that results in the death of the king and the restoration of the Haldanes. Very slow moving. It took four days for me to read this, interrupting it with other books. 1/24/22

The Starless Crown by James Rollins, Tor, 2022, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-81677-1

After more than a decade of thrillers and supernatural novels, Rollins returns to epic fantasy with this, the very long beginning of a new series. The setting is a kind of alternate Earth that has stopped rotating, has magic, and is caught in a kind of Dark Age. There are four major protagonists, the most important of whom is a not very feisty young woman who has a vision of an apocalyptic end of the world, one that can be avoided. The powers that be want to suppress her warning. The other three are a prince with no prospects, a thief who has been betrayed by his friends, and a knight of no particularly outstanding talents. The three men will, of course, be drawn into the young woman's quest to save the world. Technology exists in this world, and a good chunk of it consists of battles between enormous airships. There is in fact quite a bit of what we might call science fiction mixed in with the fantasy. The plot involves a great deal of action and violence, but it is somewhat hobbled by the necessity to introduce the world and the major characters in some detail. In fact, the characters are developed rather more fully than is common in works of this sort. I had to take a couple of breaks from this and read something else, but I was always drawn back. It uses a lot of the usual tropes, but has enough new twists to be occasionally surprising. I will read the sequels when they appear. 1/14/22

Jamaica Blue Magic by Kathleen Moffre-Spoor & Ryk E. Spoor, Ring of Fire Press, 2020 

The hero of the first book in this series has just managed to derail the evil plans of a gang of vampires and he is off on vacation to Jamaica. But the evil plans are not done, just diverted. And he has other enemies as well, some from his past, including a demon. With a new array of allies, he is off to battle this new menace, but this time hampered by a curse that has made him more vulnerable than ever. Rather more focused than its predecessor, and somewhat less apocalyptic. The characters are slightly uneven. Some are quite well drawn, others never rise above being caricatures. If you haven’t read a few too many urban fantasies already, this series – only 2 volumes at present – this may tickle your fancy. Quite violent though. 1/11/22

High Deryni by Katherine Kurtz, Ballantine, 1973 

The two threats posed in the first two books are both eliminated in the third. After some occasionally boring technical discussions, the conservative church leaders either surrender and restore their loyalty to the throne or agree to withdraw from public life. This allows the king and his advisers to turn toward the aggressive army on their border, whose leader has recently suborned one of their aristocrats and placed the defensive line in jeopardy. They agree to a magical duel to resolve the issue, but the bad king plans to cheat in various ways, each of which is thwarted. His ultimate defeat, however, is because one of his chief advisers is secretly loyal to the other side. This comes out of nowhere. The turncoat poisons the villains and the battle never takes place. Yet more people are revealed to be secretly Deryni. Although quite readable, some of the gimmicks have at this point been used too often. 1/10/22

French Roast Apocalypse by Kathleen Moffre-Spoor & Ryk E. Spoor, Ring of Fire Press, 2021 

I haven’t read much urban fantasy in the last couple of years, having thoroughly overdosed on it. This is the first in a series that is typical of that genre, although a bit cluttered plotwise. The protagonist is an ex-monster hunter, now a revenant, who operates a coffee house that is a kind of halfway house for reformed monsters. He also keeps his hand in his old profession as well. He is also looking for his vanished wife. The main opposition in this one, however, is a gang of vampires who have used dark magic to destroy a large portion of Paris and who plan further depredations as part of their plan to gather power. There is also a danger to the entire race of fae and some other subplots. Amusing and entertaining but there are a few too many plot elements for the story to proceed as smoothly as it should. 1/4/22

Deryni Checkmate by Katherine Kurtz, Ballantine, 1972 

The church is still opposed to Deryni magic and the leadership is determined to remove Morgan from power over his duchy, even if that means cutting off the entire population from access to the church. A small rebellion complicates matters, and overall a war with a neighboring kingdom seems inevitable and imminent. Mostly political maneuvering and court intrigue, with the mysterious figure of Saint Camber appearing briefly to stir the pot. The villains are less powerful than in the first book and there is considerably less action. The plotting is much better, however, and the characters begin to take on some individuality. 1/2/22

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