Wednesday 2 September 2009

Dragonspell - Katharine Kerr

For the first time in the Deverry series, all the action remains in the present day in Dragonspell rather than flitting back to fill gaps in the past, and the plot/pacing is all the tighter for it.

Rhodry has been sold as a slave on the Bardek islands, and one storyline follows his new life, intersected with information about Salamander and Jill chasing him down. Behind all this we discover more about the politics and machinations within the Hawks, the Brotherhood and, behind them all, the Old One - desperate enemy of Nevyn.

I really enjoyed the slow build and Jill's gradual realisation that the dweomer would be her future, no matter how much she wished otherwise. The climax to the Old One part of the story was very much D&D in nature (no real surprise considering Kerr's background in roleplaying games) and fairly purfunctory. No one was in any great danger, and everyone survived to live another day. What was more interesting was the final few chapters, where Jill makes the decision that releases Nevyn from his reckless vow and changes her life.

The sequence of four books are fairly generic fantasy, and certainly more groundbreaking fantasy has been produced since these. However, they should not be dismissed lightly. Kerr's writing is warm and welcoming. The characters are well-written and you care deeply about what happens to them. Kerr has told a fabulously rich story, which was improved immeasurably by the lack of a linear storyline.

I think that readers of any epic fantasy would gain a great deal of enjoyment from the Deverry series. Although I wish to all the Gods that the characters would stop tossing their heads to make a point!

Dawnspell - Katharine Kerr

Dawnspell is my favourite of the series so far! In this book the modern day plot follows Jill and Rhodry as they are forced apart by circumstance, and ends on a real cliffhanger where Rhodry vanishes, and it is up to Jill and Salamander to try and find him. In the past we meet another incarnation of Jill and Rhodry, at a time when the silver daggers are brought into being and Rhodry fights to bring the one true king of Deverry to power.

As I said in a previous review, because the flashbacks tend to be the bulk of the book, it is necessary to find them entertaining if the novel as a whole is to be considered a success. In this novel, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Jill and Rhodry's previous life, especially the novelty of Jill being reborn into a man's body this time around. It was a gripping insert, and I loved to see exactly why the silver daggers came into being.

We saw a great deal more of modern times, and the politics affecting Deverry. Lovyan stepped onto centre stage, and I appreciated the fact that Kerr wrote into the story strong female characters. I got tired of Rhys' stubborn ways concerning Rhodry and was frighteningly indifferent to his plight.

One character I was genuinely curious about and repelled by was Perryn. His treatment of Jill, and the way he was able to entice women, was presented as extremely disturbing, especially because it was so involuntary.

Again, I loved the Wildfolk, and found it particularly amusing when Salamander used them to cow the pirate folk of Slaith.

All in all, a great book. Because of the extreme cliffhanger and the introduction of Taliesyn as a character, I am desperate to read the fourth in this sequence and think that Kerr is doing a fabulous job bringing the world of Deverry alive.

Darkspell - Katharine Kerr

This is the second Deverry book and proves to be just as gripping as the first. Here we are dealing with a present time storyline of Jill and Rhodry's life on the road as silver daggers, and the danger they face from masters of dark dweomer. Jill discovers from Nevyn more about dweomer as he tries to gently encourage her to fulfil her Wyrd (destiny).

We also go back in time to a previous incarnation of Jill and Rhodry and Cullyn (Jill's father). The three souls (and others) have been twisted together because of vengeance, a miscarriage of destiny and incestuous love. Here Jill is Gweniver - a lady who pledges herself to the Moon Goddess, and therefore will be unable to take to a life of dweomer. Nevyn resigns himself to watching her die in the service of the Goddess and going back to waiting for her soul to be reborn. There is also a quick backstory to the start of the Maelwaedd clan (Rhodry's people).

I adored the whole story of Jill and Rhodry, and everything that happens in modern times. I found the masters of dark dweomer genuinely creepy, especially hearing what takes place during their rituals. It is lovely to see more of dweomer at work, including an entertaining piece of jewelry. I particularly like the way that Kerr ensures that there is always a downside to working dweomer.

One of my favourite characters right now is highly peripheral - Jill's grey gnome (one of the Wildfolk) is extremely cute and Kerr does well to lend him so much character since he is unable to speak properly. I also like Ebany a great deal, and suspect we shall see much more of him.

However, the success of these books depends greatly on how enjoyable the tale set in the past is, since it encompasses a large part of the novel. And I didn't get on with Gweniver - I found her naive and arrogant in turn. Very different from other past incarnations such as Brangwen (the first incarnation) and Lyssa (a gentle bard's wife). This is why I drop it half a star from the first book in the series.

The strong Celtic feel again embued the book with a sense of almost historical fiction - the language and the lifestyle is a fantastic part of each novel. Once again, I would recommend highly.

Daggerspell - Katharine Kerr

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.

Quick Update!

I hate visiting blogs that have no updates for days and days and days, and here I am doing it myself!

So what have I been doing? Mostly reading Katharine Kerr's epic series about Deverry and the Westlands in preparation of the last book being published in October (I have book reviews for all books so far and will do a massive update once I've finished this penultimate volume).

I also made a trip to the cinema over the Bank Holiday weekend to see The Time Traveler's Wife (note the one L in Traveller - silly American spelling... *grumble*). I haven't yet read the book, but, based on my enjoyment of the film, I have now bumped it right to the top of my reading list. I go on my hols this Saturday and I think it will be perfect holiday reading!

From what I can understand, the film is merely a solid adaptation of the book, which goes into far more depth. Having not read the book, I was able to enjoy a good film with decent performances by both Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. It was romantic and heartbreaking at the end. I would gently encourage people to pick up the DVD when it arrives.

I have also been enjoying the big reveal of the Strictly Come Dancing line-up for the upcoming series! Can't wait to see Tuffers do his thang!

Look out for my reviews of Katharine Kerr's excellent books over the next few days!