Kerr, Katharine

About the Author:

 

Born in Ohio, USA in 1944, Katharine Kerr has extensively studied medieval and dark age history and has helped to create role-playing game modules.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

3.8 out of 5

(6 books)

A Time Of Exile

Book 1 of the Westlands Cycle and the fifth book of the Deverry series as a whole.  As the longevity of his secret elven heritage becomes increasingly apparent, Rhodry must give up his throne and begin a new life among the elves of the Westlands.

The summary I've given above leads me to this book's first and biggest failing.  The very first words on the back cover are 'The adventures of Rhodry Maelwaedd...', but the simple truth is that Rhodry's story takes up perhaps ten percent of this book.  In truth, we get little more of his adventures than exactly what I've described above.  Instead, the vast majority of this book tells of the historical interactions between the people of Deverry and the elves of the borderlands.

We do at least get the constants of the sorcerers Nevyn and Aderyn, but the rest of the book is a meandering series of mostly unrelated plotlines featuring a variety of characters who rarely hang around for long.  It makes the whole book feel vague, unfocused and, ultimately, lacking in anything that could be considered a cohesive plot.  If anything, it feels more like background reading to prepare us for later books.

Kerr's writing remains perfectly compelling, but I for one like a novel to have a solid narrative or at least some sort of themetic through-line that leads me from the first page to the last.  This book lacked that.

3 out of 5

 

A Time Of Omens

The second book of the Westlands Cycle.  Whilst Jill and Salamander head to the southern islands in search of a lost colony of elves, Rhodry returns to Deverry from the Westlands and takes up the mercenary life of a Silver Dagger once more.

The first third of this book was hugely tedious for me.  It did exactly the thing which irritates me most about the Deverry books; which is to veer off into a historical period in a self-contained and largely irrelevant tangent.  We then spend a bit of time with Jill, who's become increasingly unlikable, and a whole host of new characters and locations that have little or no bearing on the rest of the novel.  Honestly, it was like all the worst bits of the preceding book distilled.

However, just as I was giving up hope, Kerr pulls it out of the fire for the latter two thirds of the book.  We're returned properly to Rhodry's adventures and finally some of the plotlines of 'A Time of Exile' begin to develop in interesting ways.  It was in Rhodry's travels with his new companion Yraen and the conflicts they endure, that I remembered what made me like the Deverry books in the first place.  More than that, we also get our first glimpses of a larger over-arching story as Rhodry and company encounter the vanguard of an ancient enemy in the closing chapters of the book.

Although it started very poorly, the ending of this book had me looking forward to finding out how the seeds planted here will develop in the ensuing books.

3 out of 5

 

Daggerspell

The first book of the Deverry series.  Kerr's series is set in a fantasy world with a Celtic basis, rather than a medieval one, where few people are aware of the elves, dwarfs, Wildfolk and magic that are among them. 

I'll quickly bring up one of my few gripes with this book; Kerr's use of the old word 'dweomer' in place of 'magic'.  I can see why she'd do it, but ultimately my opinion is, if you mean magic, then say magic.  The same goes for her archaic use of 'somewhat' rather than 'something'. 

Kerr's world would make for compelling reading simply as shown, but she adds a fascinating new layer to her fantasy epic: the story is told in three time periods in which the reincarnated souls of the main characters are brought together to try to ammend the disasterous result of their first meeting.  I was worried at first that this would cause a lack of continuity and indeed, when each of the three stories begins, it does break the flow of the book, but thankfully Kerr lets us use the character of Nevyn as a mooring post, because he is bound to immortality until he can unravel the tangled 'Wyrd' that draws the souls involved together. 

I very much enjoyed Kerr's take on elves, dwarfs and fairy-folk, giving a subtle twist to familiar concepts.  I found this book an enjoyable read all round, but it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi that other series openers (particularly Feist's 'Magician' and Martin's 'A Game Of Thrones') have and which grabs you and immerses you totally and irrevocably in the story.  I look forward to reading the rest of the series. 

The version I read of this book was the author's extended text.

Followed by 'Darkspell'.

4 out of 5

 

Darkspell

The second Deverry novel.  The author picks up the story with Rhodry and Jill on the road as silver dagger mercenaries, following the events of the previous book.  Soon we're plunged back in time once more to another period when Nevyn witnessed the coming together of the souls tangled with his own destiny. 

This time Jill's previous incarnation is a warrior priestess and Rhodry's is her loyal and loving man-at-arms.  Of all the flashback sequences so far I enjoyed this one the most and it's particularly moving when Nevyn reaches the moment when he realises that Gweniver is too maddened by warfare to fulfill her destiny as a sorceress. 

When the story returns to the present it follows the plot of two dark magicians out to steal a powerful gem which falls into Jill and Rhodry's protection.  I enjoyed the plot of this book much more than I did 'Daggerspell' and particularly liked the subtlety of character Kerr uses for her villains, showing that they're not evil simply for the sake of being evil. 

The things that bothered me in the first book ('somewhat' and 'dweomer') suddenly weren't an issue any more either, making this an enjoyable read all round.

As with 'Daggerspell' the version I read of this book was the expanded 'special edition' version.

Followed by 'Dawnspell: The Bristling Wood'.

5 out of 5

 

Dawnspell: The Bristling Wood

Book three of the Deverry Cycle.  The third book continues the stories of Nevyn, Rhodry and Jill as well as their past lives.

I enjoyed this book, but I found that I enjoyed it considerably less than I had 'Darkspell' and it seems to be a bit of a bridge story where little gets resolved.  I did very much enjoy the plotline which followed Nevyn's discovery of a cabal of dark wizards, but it wasn't enough to make the book as a whole as interesting as I thought it needed to be.

The past lives shown here aren't nearly as compelling as the main one featured in the last book either, although it was interesting to see the origins of the Silver Daggers.

Followed by 'Dragonspell: The Southern Sea'.

4 out of 5

 

Dragonspell: The Southern Sea

The fourth Deverry book and the conclusion of the first part of the series, released in the U.S. as 'The Dragon Revenant'.  Here Rhodry, his memories wiped, is sold as a slave among the islands of Bardek.  Jill and Salamander are following the trail that leads to him, but so are the agents of the Dark Dweomer.

At first I was severely worried about reading this book.  I hate stories where the main character has amnesia and I hate imprisonment stories almost as much.  So, the fact that this book begins with Rhodry as an amnesiac prisoner had me concerned.  However, Kerr manages to keep the story moving along at a good pace, never falling into the dull and repetetive pitfalls usually associated with those plot devices.

The other thing that I particularly liked in this book was the fact that there are no flashbacks to previous lives.  Although those elements were interesting in the previous volumes, appropriately the storytelling equivalent of a Celtic knot, here I was glad to not have the distraction of a whole different plotline to consider.

This book proved to be an enjoyable read, but not one that really blew me away.  Also, the ending felt like a bit of an anticlimax after four books.

4 out of 5

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