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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 27, 2014
Katherine Kurtz may not be the most prolific fantasy writer. That distinction may belong to S M Stirling although his works straddle a number of genres. But I think the Deryni books by Kurtz may hold the record for the most fantasy books, at sixteen (as well as three additional ancillary works), that follow a timeline of more than two hundred years (903 to 1128) chronicling the adventures and travails of succeeding Gwynedd monarchs, the Deryni magic-empowered race, adversarial bishops and sinister clergy, and the neighboring Torenthi usurpers and pretenders to the throne.

The first Deryni book was ‘Deryni Rising,’ published in 1970 and the most recent, and likely the last, ‘The King’s Deryni,’ in 2014; that totals forty-four years it has taken to build a medieval fantasy saga, surely a monumental achievement by any measure. Some books are out of print. Perhaps one day the complete saga could be republished in chronological order.

If read chronologically, ‘Childe Morgan’ is the eight book in the Deryni series of sixteen, the second volume of the Childe Morgan trilogy. In terms of publishing sequence it is the penultimate volume and one of the shortest. Continuing from the first book of the trilogy, ‘In the King’s Service,’ its central character is Kenneth Kai Morgan, the most trusted aide to King Donal Haldane. His much younger wife Alyce de Corwyn Morgan has birthed a son, Alaric Morgan, who is the ‘childe’ of this trilogy and the third book will tell of his adult experiences in support of the king and defense of the Kingdom of Gwynedd.

This book struck me as a being short of adversarial plots and dramatic encounters except towards its conclusion. Its first half consists mostly of placid dialog and descriptions of events that are inconsequential to the plot. As is Kurtz’s style we are inundated with introductions and references to new characters and their genealogies. These come in lumps and clumps at the beginning of many of her books and challenge readers’ recollective abilities. The ‘Index of Characters’ in the appendix is of some help but lack detail in order not to reveal pending events. However, by its middle this novel gains more substance and I found the book’s ending had made it worth getting through its bland first half. The ending sets the stage very well for the next book ‘The King’s Deryni’ which should be much more substantial at over five hundred pages in length.
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A fan of the series for over two decades, it's always with great pleasure that I return to the Deryni universe. Now 40+ years in the making, Katherine Kurtz's landmark series seldom fails to satisfy. Sadly, though she is likely the mother of historical fantasy, over the years the NYT bestselling Deryni saga has become out of print and thus a bit harder to find. Which means that an entire generation of SFF readers have yet to get acquainted with this classic sequence of books.

Moreover, other than the the very first trilogy (which, truth to tell, is perhaps the weakest in the saga) being reissued recently, what Deryni novels still in print (King Kelson's Bride, In the King's Service, and Childe Morgan) are more or less meant to bridge various gaps in the saga's timeline instead of focusing on new storylines that could perhaps entice new readers to plunge into the Deryni universe and fall in love with it and the great characters that populate its history.

Having said that, as a direct sequel to In the King's Service, Childe Morgan is sure to please Katherine Kurtz's fans awaiting new Deryni adventures. The events chronicled in this novel span a period of approximately two and a half years, covering Alaric Morgan's early childhood and what will lead to Kurtz's first trilogy.

As a prequel to The Deryni Chronicles series, like its predecessor Childe Morgan covers a lot of ground, paving the way to the book which started it all, Deryni Rising, about twenty-five years in the future. Familiar themes such as Mearan rebels, the Camberian Council's machinations, Torenthi incursions into Gwynedd, the Church's hatred toward Deryni, the separation between Church and State, and a monarch desperately attempting to protect his lineage feature quite prominently in this novel.

Kurtz's historian eye for details makes for beautiful and vivid worldbuilding. The richness of details and her depiction of medieval life creates an imagery which brings the world and its protagonists to life.

And yet, although Katherine Kurtz's worldbuilding skills are on par with gifted fantasy authors such as Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and R. Scott Bakker, it's the characterization which elevates her books over that of the competition and makes the Deryni Saga one of my most beloved series of all time. Not unlike Robin Hobb and Guy Gavriel Kay, Kurtz's subtle human touch can pull on those heartstrings when you least expect it. Damn her, but Kurtz managed to make my eyes water again! Few writers have the ability to create such genuine characters that you come to care about the way Katherine Kurtz can, seemingly effortlessly.

As was the case in In the King's Service, Lady Alyce de Corwyn takes center stage. Sir Kenneth Morgan, as Alaric's father, and King Donal Blaine Haldane, understandably, also have important roles to play. I have to admit that it was quite amusing to see Duncan McLain and Alaric Morgan, two of the most important power players in the struggle to come, as mischievous children playing in the mud!

Amid all the politicking, there are a number of poignant moments in Childe Morgan, especially in every scene featuring Sir Sé Trelawney, childhood friend of Lady Alyce and now a fully avowed Knight of the Anvil. Somehow, this character manages to steal the show every time he's present, even though it's done in a very subtle manner.

The pace is fluid throughout, the narrative fleshes out details we've been waiting for years to see unveiled. All too quickly, the end comes, with no other Deryni installment in sight for the near future.
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