Kerr does several things very well. She does a particularly good job of working the big story around the little ones – something that brings a lot of epic fantasists to grief: you want to have compelling episodes, but not at the expense of something larger making the whole thing cohere and have a sense of movement. By book 3 George R.R. Martin’s Ice and Fire series has virtually bloated to soap opera and lost much of the majesty of the frame; in contrast, Eddings’ Belgariad was largely just going through the motions for the last few books with the inevitable conclusion ponderously played out. I suppose I should be careful here – a lot of series start well (A Game of Thrones was fantastic) before losing direction, and Kerr may slip over time – but that being said this individual volume has a really pleasing mix of internal resolution and enticing future scope.
Much of the cohesion works around her whole reincarnation thing – she can tell several different stories along the way, but we all know they’re the same characters experiencing and creating karma. Kudos to her for not only having the originality to apply this notion to fantasy, but the skills to realise it successfully.
Moreover the general mythos of the Deverry world is intriguing and consistent, and not the usual vaguely Tolkienesque facade. She doesn’t just throw the magic out there utterly randomly, but tries to build something in her etheric planes and give at least some explanation of dweomer and tie it into the history and action of her world.
With the exception of us being supposed to wryly smile at ‘honourable’ Rhodry’s sewing of his wild oats (just his elven blood at work) – as if in a time before contraception he wasn’t being any less than callously irresponsible – there is a refreshing goodness to much of the morality running behind the book. Not nearly as much of your Hollywood virtue equals being able to WIN: cleverly dispatching your enemy may here be presented as culpable vice. Nevyn actually comes across as a pretty wise and compassionate sage by what he says, does, and even learns – rather than us just having to assume he’s got some insight because he’s a sorcerer. We actually feel sword master Cullyn’s greatest victory has nothing to do with his skills, but is his final mature triumph over his fearsome incestuous potential. This unusually non-violent event is something of a climax, as it’s also where Nevyn manages to love and respect a previously great foe. As I say, it’s a nice change from the standard black and white pap you get, without simply becoming postmodern and confused.
Much of the action is in a Shakespearian context. We’ve got court plottings, fatal tragic personality flaws, inter-royal family revenge, banishment, star-crossed lovers – though thankfully no fools jumping about. I suppose if I had to go for some weaknesses I’d say the dialogue rarely soars – there’s no great wit or incisive interplay. The words follow along with the characters and action but are not a feature of their own.
Still, a very pleasing page turner and, thank goodness, something (a bit) innovative in the fantasy genre.
1st in mid 90s
PS: Apparently the series order is:
Daggerspell, Darkspell: The Southern Sea, Dawnspell: The Bristling Wood, The Dragon Revenant, Time of Exile, Time of Omens, Days of Blood and Fire, Days of Air and Darkness, The Red Wyvern.