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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
Books: Deryni Rising 
15th-Jan-2013 09:54 am
Read Irresponsibly
Because I sent in my genre crush response yesterday about Kelson Haldane, my editor asked for an "In the Stacks" review of Deryni Rising. I honestly don't want to go back and read that book right now, so I wrote it from memory instead. Maybe the review is short on details, but I hope it captures some explanation of why I loved the book then and why I don't want to read it again now.

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
15th-Jan-2013 03:49 pm (UTC)
I retain a fond spot for the Deryni books and--unlike a lot of other childhood favorites--I actually can get enjoyment out of rereading them. Although I tried her latest series, the Childe Morgan trilogy, and . . . yeah, maybe they only work when veiled with the haze of nostalgia, because that one did not work for me at all.
15th-Jan-2013 03:53 pm (UTC)
I read the Deryni books in fits and starts. I read the three Deryni, then paused for a few years, then the three Camber, then paused for a few years, then the Archives and Bishop's Heir... and stopped. I loved my fantasies and memories and dreams more than I wanted to see the characters grow and change.
15th-Jan-2013 04:37 pm (UTC)
I didn't read many of the Deryni books (if any beyond this one), but I do recall this one well. I think what made it stick with me was the nature of the "haldane potential". Loved the authors afterword explaining the biology of it, but then I've always liked genetics.
15th-Jan-2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I loved that the end of... High Deryni? had a quick genetics explanation in it, and then the reference book spent a good long while explaining hereditary traits and Deryni genetics. And then of course there was Warren and a few other people who could heal but supposedly weren't Deryni.
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