Katherine Kurtz’s first Deryni series introducing the land of Gwynneth and its young, just-made King Kelson and his advisor Alaric Morgan is a justifiably acclaimed fantasy classic. Since that first trilogy, Kurtz has given us several series of books dipping into Gwynneth’s far history as well as Kelson’s near future. While, as is true of just about any such multi-volume fantasy series, there have been some stumbles here and there, for the most part Kurtz has maintained the high level of quality set by that first trilogy, especially with regard to the CAMBER OF CULDI series set in the distant past.
Childe Morgan is the second in the series that falls right before that first trilogy when King Kelson takes his place as ruler, helped by Alaric Morgan and others. Like the first book in this grouping, In the King’s Service, Childe Morgan suffers from a feeling of it being a “fill-in-the-gap” novel, one whose plot and characters are pre-determined by previous novels. As such, it lacks much of the passion and excitement of King Kelson’s earlier books or the Culdi series (which was set so far in the past that only broad strokes of plot had to be accommodated).
The first book suffered from trying to “catch up” the reader on many, many years, so we were hurled through decades and the emotional impact of that novel was stunted by the short shrift given to any particular event or character. Childe Morgan, on the other hand, is much more focused in terms of many fewer years covered (only a couple) and many fewer characters involved. Unfortunately, though, it still feels more like one wandered into a theater a few hours early — the stage is being set, props are put into their needed places, lights shift from place to place quickly practicing where they’ll be focusing later, characters pop on and off stage practicing their entrances for later important scenes, cue lines are rehearsed that will eventually lead into moving dialogue. But not here, not yet.
As if often the case with prequel storylines, the book also suffers a bit from been-there-done-that. If you’ve read the previous Deryni novels, and while this series stands independent it would be a mistake to read it alone or first, you’ve already seen the scenes involving a king frustrated by his inability to deal with a recalcitrant clergy, an interrupted ceremony of power, the death of a child, the assassination attempt on a king, the death of a major character, a young boy with a preternatural sense of bearing, etc.
They aren’t done badly here, not at all, but they feel like shadows of what has come before — less substantive, less moving. It also doesn’t help that the major characters her fans will be most interested in (Alaric, King Brion — Kelson’s father) are too young to do much through most of the book — Brion reaching only 14 and Alaric remaining a toddler.
There is also, as one has to expect by now, a lot of ritual. In fact, the rituals structure the novel as we move in time through various knighting rituals, coming-of-age rituals, marriages, births, oaths of fealty, raising of a new archbishop, etc. Nobody does ritual like Kurtz, but I’d be lying if I said I read every single word of every single ritual.
While this sounds like a pretty negative review, Childe Morgan actually was an enjoyable and quick read (ok, more quick since I didn’t read every ritual litany). The pacing is even and moves along quickly, dotted as it is by slow rituals. There are exciting moments and moving moments. It isn’t at all a bad book or even a mediocre one;
it pales mostly in comparison to its strong relatives. But it does feel like a placeholder book; I’m not sure it will rivet anyone or move them fully, though fans of her work will be stirred not by the action itself but by what it portends. When we read of early Deryni burnings or watch clerics plotting, what excites us more than these particular events is what we know they lead to.
For that reason, and because it does fill in some interesting gaps of knowledge, I recommend Childe Morgan for any Kurtz fans. It doesn’t reach the level of many of her previous works, but it will tide you over nicely and whet your appetite for the closer-to-home and more exciting events that are just waiting in the wings — Brion’s battles with the church and the Torenthi, the soon-to-come purges of the Deryni, Morgan’s ascension into power, along with his cousin. I’m certainly looking forward to the next book. For people who haven’t read Kurtz yet, this is not the place to start. Pick up book one of her first trilogy (Deryni Rising) and be prepared to read many more; you won’t want to stop.
The Deryni Chronicles — (1970-2014) Publisher: For more than 30 years, The Deryni Chronicles have transported readers to a world of secret sorcery and courtly intrigue. Deryni Rising, the first book in the series, launched Katherine Kurtz’s phenomenal, bestselling career. Now, with this special edition, including a new introduction by the author, fans of the series can revel anew in the dawning of an epic…
The Chronicles of the Deryni (1970-1973) (about King Kelson, Morgan, Duncan)
The Histories of King Kelson (1984-2000) (about King Kelson, Morgan, Duncan)
The Legends of Camber of Culdi (1976-1981)
The Heirs of Saint Camber (1989-1994)
Childe Morgan (2004-2014)