Friday, 16 October 2009

The Red Wyvern - Katharine Kerr

The Red Wyvern is the first book in a new cycle of novels set in Deverry by Katharine Kerr, and as such new readers can start out at this point. I would recommend vehemently, though, that they do not since a number of storylines from prior novels come together or are referenced in this novel.

For the first time we drift in time forwards rather than backwards, albeit for a short time, when we discover that Haen Marn is adrift in time as well as space. A soldier from a more modern Scotland is cast into the mythical isle for a night, showing us in the process that Angmar is pregnant with Rhodry's child.

The majority of the novel takes place in the past though, taking us to a continuation of the tale of the civil war that tore Deverry in two - where Maryn becomes the High King under Nevyn's tutelage. The story is concentrated on Lillorigga (who we know in the current times as Niffa, the ratter's daughter) and her mother Lady Merodda - the person who becomes Raena, the Black Raven, and causes Rhodry such heartache. Here we discover why Raena and Rhodry's Wyrds are so tangled.

This is a great return to form for Kerr. I was somewhat disappointed in the last few novels she turned out - she seemed very much to be writing by the numbers. Here her writing comes alive again - with intrigue, scheming, battle, fair maidens, dweomer mysteries, and high adventure. I loved the character of Lillorigga, who came blessed with good sense and honour.

I was somewhat annoyed with Kerr's descriptive passages that seem lifted from one book to another. On the one hand you could say that it reinforces the effect she wishes to create, but I find the copy and paste technique a little lazy.

Once again I sighed and slowed down my reading during each portion of the book that dealt with Evandar and his brother Shaetano, who has now taken over where Alshandra left off. I can understand that the Fae - as these Guardians seem based on - live in a dreamlike Otherland, and I accept that Kerr might well be writing about them in a capable manner, but it slows the book down and I find myself bored of their antics. I am particularly frustrated with Evandar's endless scheming that (as Dallandra says) brings naught but hurt to the people they affect.

In fact, all of the book that has dweomer in it directly, I find fairly tiresome. I strongly believe that Kerr's strongest ability is to bring to very vivid life the Celtic medieval world. She writes extremely capably about life in a dun; her battle scenes are fascinating and realistically chaotic; and her strong female characters are countered heavily by the responsibilities they hold in earlier times (e.g. never being part of councils, doing all the sewing for the people of the dun, always being above reproach in terms of producing an heir for their lord).

This book dealt greatly with that element of Kerr's writing and hence I award it four stars, and look forward again to the next in the cycle.

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