What I told her was...
Once upon a time, in a minivan on a summer vacation, an 11-year-old girl fell into a new world of fantasy through the doorway marked Deryni Rising. In that book, she followed a young Prince Kelson through two weeks of twists and turns from his father-the-King’s murder to his own coronation. There was an evil sorceress seeking Kelson’s throne, there was political machination around the coronation, and there was even the prince’s own mother denying him the advice and counsel he needed. The story was “epic” on the fifth-grade scale, and had everything I needed for escapism in those long car rides.
The fantasy genre of “modern” Arthurian tales was just taking root in the 1970s when the Deryni universe was created, and both that new birthing and the fact that Katherine Kurtz was a new writer can be used to explain some of the criticisms that I would level on the book as an adult. Deryni Rising suffers from abrupt transitions, multiple points of view, a linear plot, and a lack of supporting cast. The main character Kelson has very little nuance to his perspective, which is frustrating to my adult mind and entirely understandable to a monochromatic child. His advisor Morgan is nigh unto Superman for the time: powerful in all ways, horrifically vulnerable to one poison, persecuted by others who misunderstand him, and - of course - dashingly handsome.
I look back on Deryni Rising (and its sequels and references) as amazing examples of child-accessible high fantasy. It is one of the few series that I encountered in my formative reading years with characters who had responsibilities as adults but were still struggling out of the cocoon of childhood. This was the first series I read where the Church was more than a monolithic force of good or evil. Additionally, it was one of the first series I had encountered where magic was explained as both hereditary and a part of the educational process (Kurtz published the genetic explanation too.).
Of course, those books came along later. There in the first book, what little about Kelson’s heritage that was explained made absolute sense because it was MAGIC and SCIENCE together. Morgan said so, and Kelson believe him, so my young mind was satisfied. And there were dark, dangerous adventures in the night! And dramatic confrontations in the chambers! And strange visions in the library!
Is Deryni Rising a great book? No. Is it a good book? Yes. It has a lot to offer younger readers who are beyond Disney’s Sword in the Stone but are not quite ready for Feist or Donaldson. While I admit that there is a romantic summer get-away reminiscence that helps land Deryni Rising a spot on my constantly evolving list of The Best Fantasy for Kids, I also recommend your kids read it and decide for themselves.
Books for 2013