Katherine Kerr's Deverry series

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Katherine Kerr's Deverry series

Post by Peregrine »

So I'm reading Daggerspell, the first Deverry book. This isn't the first time, but I didn't get very far the first time. This time I've persisted. I'm getting close to the end, actually.

It's been an odd experience. You see, there's quite a number of things I dislike about the book. But I'm still reading. (For me, that's no mean feat. I have trouble maintaining my focus for a whole book these days.) I've decided that while I dislike aspects of the book, I don't dislike the book.

A few of the things I dislike are probably quite irrational and unfair on the author. One is the fantasy-Celtic setting. I observe that this seems to have been quite fashionable some time around the 1970s or 1980s, but surely we're long past the point now where simply making your people and place names sound Welsh or Irish (or displaced-into-a-fantasy-world Gaulish, as is the case here) is a free ticket to sounding strange, mystical and wonderful. But it's entirely likely that thinking of such as a cheap veneer is doing the author a disservice; for all I know she could have as thoroughly researched and developed the "neo-Gaulish" Deverrian language as Tolkien did his fictional Welsh-inspired Sindarin. So really it's merely tarnished by association in my mind.

Going almost hand-in-hand with this is the magic system. (I say hand-in-hand, because so much of the "Celts are cool" vibe I dislike is not in fantasy fiction, but in modern occultism and spirituality, neo-paganism and the like.) Calling magic "dweomer", and destiny "Wyrd", I can abide. Mixing in oddly modern-sounding terms like "etheric double" and stock-fantasy stuff like the "astral plane" I can get over. But did she have to note that the "Great Ones" of her "dweomer" are "known to the Buddhists as Boddhisattvas"? I greatly dislike hodge-podge syncretic spiritist religio-magical systems, which is totally a thing and not a description I just made up today, honest.

I'm honest enough with myself (and by extension, you who read this) to know that my dislike is in large part because it's at odds with my own beliefs. One reason, possibly the main reason, that I don't like this generic "all religions are true in their own way" mysticism is because it's a sham, at least when presented as a superlative compromise that is clearly more reasonable than all these dogmatic systems. It's not a compromise at all but a whole new dogma. But again, it could be that the author is far more a scholar of religion than I am and knows what she's about, and I'm unfairly judging her because of the weak arguments peddled by others. (On one point of philosophical disagreement, I will hold firm, however. I don't like that she uses "lust" to mean sex, desire, and just plain love for a romantic/sexual partner.)

So let's get to the writing of the book itself, for my most specific and objective complaint. There's too much going on. It was not easy to follow the multiple stories, or perhaps I should say the multiple periods of the one story (jumping from the "present" into two flashbacks of past times) showing different incarnations of the main characters. (I eventually drew a diagram.) And it made it unclear what the main conflict really was. Or at least, I thought I knew what it was, but new things kept getting added on. We were about half way through the book before elves became relevant to the story, for instance, although thanks to the pronunciation guide we always knew they were coming.

(And that's another common thing she's used that I dislike: these stock fantasy elves, with Tolkienesque names and snooty-to-humans attitudes... but I digress. I'm being specific and objective.)

And shortly thereafter we uncover a completely new plot thread, not even hinted at before, which pretty soon seems to engulf what I had previously thought was the main conflict.
I mean this whole "dark dweomer" business. I thought the issue was untangling this whole Wyrd thing and somehow getting past the conflicts, and possibly even the attachments, of the past. But then along comes this concept of a dark dweomer, which pretty quickly becomes dominant, and at this point with 15% of the book to go, seems likely to become the overarching conflict for the rest of the series. I'm not saying that suddenly pulling the rug out from under the reader, and the characters, is necessarily a bad thing. A sudden switch to a larger scope of conflict can be a gripping twist. But in this case I just don't feel any closer to resolution of the existing conflict. It didn't subsume them, it just dropped in alongside them.
Throw in a few other things (characters keeping secrets from each other, characters keeping secrets from the reader, love triangles that seem to be there just because), and you've got to ask, why am I still reading? Why, in fact, am I reading this faster than just about anything I've read in a long time, rivalling (and possibly beating) the Chalion books (which I must say I did enjoy more)?

Well, I'm actually enjoying the book. I want to know what happens. I haven't uttered the eight deadly words, "I don't care what happens to these people," even internally. I do care about these characters. It's... kind of like the Lord of the Rings films, in a way. There's so much that bothers me that you think I'd give it up, but it's still fundamentally an enjoyable experience that I want to see through.

(And no, it's not just because I want to justify having assembled the whole, or nearly the whole, Deverry series piecemeal from various second-hand book sales, without ever having read them, just on some gut feeling that any series that produced so many books and sub-series must be worth reading. Honest.)

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