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PostPosted: Wed Dec 04, 2013 12:13 am 
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The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr

Brief synopsis: Celtic-themed post-Tolkien fantasy series, building from low fantasy to high fantasy over the course of 15 books.

Gamer rating: High. Kerr got into fantasy gaming through original D&D and was a contributing editor to Dragon magazine in the '70s and '80s. There are plenty of maps, timelines, glossaries and the like; certainly enough to set a game in Deverry. Nevertheless, this is NOT game fiction; Deverry has an idiosyncratic background and a magic system solidly based on the Western Tradition of ritual magic.

Reader rating: Solid. Kerr's an excellent writer, with an eye for detail. Dialogue is atmospheric and readable. Some of her metaphors live in my memory years after reading them ("His mind worried the problem like a tongue seeking out a chipped tooth...")

Andy's view: One of the great fantasy series of the '80s and '90s (and into the 21st century for the later books). Should appeal to anyone who enjoyed Lord of the Rings; it is not a Tolkien rip-off, but has the same sense of majesty and history. I started reading the Deverry Cycle in the late 80s, and eagerly awaited the publication of each new book - as did several of the friends I introduced to the series. In these days of steampunk and magepunk it may seem a little rustic and dated, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Background:

A thousand years ago, the Gaulish ancestors of the Deverrians fled Caesar's armies around the time of the battle of Gergovia. Their druids opened a rift between worlds, and they found a new home in what they called Annwn - the Celtic underworld. Their scholars retain a few works by, and memories of, the Rhwmanes (Romans) and the Grecynn (Greeks), but most of their knowledge is based around Celtic myth, legend and custom. Magic is rare and hidden - and deeply religious. Reincarnation forms a major part of the series, illuminating the past lives of the main characters and the history of Deverry.

Act One: The Deverry Saga

Novels:
1) Daggerspell
2) Darkspell
3) Dawnspell (The Brisltling Wood in the US)
4) Dragonspell (The Southern Sea in the US)

The Deverry Saga introduces Jill, the tomboy daughter of Deverry's greatest swordsman, the silver dagger Cullyn of Cerrmor. The silver daggers are a band of elite mercenaries, each of whom has been disgraced in some way. Unlike most people, Jill can see the Wildfolk, the gnomes, sylphs, salamanders and undines who share the world with humans - if she's lucky she'll be thought odd or mad; if unlucky she'll be condemned as a witch. After her mother dies, Cullyn takes Jill with him on his travels, and she grows up a soldier's brat.

Meanwhile the ancient travelling herbman Nevyn (the name means 'no one') seeks to right an ancient wrong. Nevyn is the Master of Aether, the most powerful magician in Deverry, hundreds os years old and doomed to wander, undying, until his has paid his debt to the souls he betrayed as a young man. Jill is the reincarnation of one of those souls; so is Cullyn. And so is Lord Rhodry Maelwaedd, who manages to offend older brother and is forced to take up the silver dagger and walk the Long Road (as the mercenaries call their lives).

Naturally, their paths cross, but not before an extended flashback (a very common feature of the series), explaining just what Prince Galrion (Nevyn) did to Branwen (Jill), Gerraent (Cullyn) and Blaen (Rhodry) in their past lives, and how Galrion was cursed.

The primary focus of the Deverry Saga is Jill's discovery of the dweomer (magic), and an ongoing plot by the dark dweomermen against Rhodry. Along the way we're introduced to the Westfolk - nomadic horsemen and women who live a little like the native Americans of the Great Plains. The Westfolk have long, pointy ears (humans say they crop their babies' ears) and eyes like cats (humans hate thinking about their eyes). We also meet Otto the Smith, the chap who makes the silver daggers the mercenaries carry; no one knows the alloy he uses, but it's stronger than steel. Otto's short, bearded, a master smith, and miserly. He also hates elves - who nobody really believes exist.

Act Two: The Westlands Saga

Novels
1) A Time of War
2) A Time of Omens
3) A Time of War
4) A Time of Justice

A generation after the events of the Deverry Saga, Rhodry's sons are grown men, but he isn't getting any older. He realises he has to fake his own death so they can inherit, and once more takes up his silver dagger. This time he heads west, to join the Westfolk he met as a young man.

Meanwhile, Jill has mastered dweomer under Nevyn's guidance and Nevyn's soul has, at last, found the peace between lives. Jill's older and wiser now, her hair grey and her beauty faded. Rhodry still fancies her.

The lifestyle and history of the Elves is the main backdrop to the Westlands Saga, the devastation of their cities at the hands of the mysterious Horde, which forced the survivors to take to a nomadic existance on the plains.

The plot revolves around the mysterious Others, fey creatures from Elvish legend. The rivalry between Elvander, king of the Seelie Court, and Alshandra, Queen of the Unseelie Court, seems to have driven more of the history of both Deverry and the Westlands than anyone realises. The background to the Others is woven very neatly into the philosophy of the dweomer, as established in the Deverry Saga.

Once again, the past lives of characters are explored in extended flashbacks.

Act Three: The Dragon Mage (in the US, the final four books are split into a separate act: The Silver Wyrm)

Books:
1) The Red Wyvern
2) The Black Raven
3) The Fire Dragon
4) The Gold Falcon
5) The Spirit Stone
6) The Shadow Isle
7) The Silver Mage

After Jill and the Elves help the Others fulfill their destiny, Alshandra is left to her own devices. Far to the north, the descendants of the Horde that destroyed the Elven cities accept her as a goddess. A war like none seen before is brewing: not only in scale but in nature; dweomer matched against the powers of the fey, ogres against Elves and humans.

Rhodry's wyrd seems ended when he receives a mortal wound, but Elvander manages to transform him into something that will survive.

Meanwhile, in another world, the strange residents of a mysterious island in a Scottish loch seem to know more about Deverry than they should...

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Active games: Pathfinder - Rise of the Runelords. Pathfinder Society games.


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