Daggerspell is the first book in Katharine Kerr's long-running series about Deverry and the Westlands. It introduces the three linked characters of Jill, Rhodry and Nevyn. This book - and indeed the series - is set up in such a way that it will jump from future to past and back again. It can make for complicated reading and an issue with pacing, but it genuinely brings the events to life.
The idea is that in the year 643 Galrion (who is to become Nevyn) makes a series of decisions that causes his lady love Brangwen to turn away from a life of dweomer (the name for magic) and become embroiled in an incestuous relationship with her own brother. Nevyn makes a vow that he will never rest until he has put things right. Consequently, he is unable to die and experiences the characters being reborn again and again while he tries to bring Brangwen to a life of dweomer. Jill is the latest woman that has the soul of Brangwen.
The strength of Kerr's writing is not so much in the story itself, but in the characters who inhabit it, and in the way she is able to tell each of the short stories about one of the lives that Brangwen lives. Her ability to invest you in what is essentially a short story is exceptionally good.
There are some tired cliches - the Elves for instance. Here called the Westfolk or the Elcyion Lacar, they are nomads with pointed ears and cat pupil eyes. They are foreign to the humans, and able to see the Wildfolk - the denizens of the etheric plane.
I also got frustrated with two recurring over-uses of description. Many of the characters, especially the women, toss their heads. Constantly. Many of the characters keen in mourning. Frequently. Barring these two things, the writing flows well.
I enjoyed the heavy Celt flavouring to Deverry, it was tied richly into the story. I do have a small complaint that a number of the names are familiar and Kerr does not bring on the characters of those in the secondary string enough for you to tell easily between your Pedyr's and your Daumur's.
I thoroughly enjoyed this first instalment of the series and will read onwards eagerly.