Deryni Checkmate, first published in 1972, is the second novel in Katherine Kurtz’s epic fantasy series that’s set in a world called Gwynedd (loosely based our own medieval UK) where some people have inherited magic from a race called the Deryni which has interbred with normal humans. The church of Gwynedd considers magic anathema and is using its wealth, power, and influence to rid the world of Deryni magic. Thus, Kurtz’s story is clearly inspired by our own middle ages when the Roman Catholic Church dominated Western religious and political systems and, having strayed from its Biblical roots, lorded it over the political leaders and the rest of the citizenry.
In the previous novel, Deryni Rising (1970), we met young King Kelson who ascended the throne after his father was killed by an evil Deryni sorceress. With help from his father’s friends and advisors, Kelson discovered his own Deryni powers and defeated her. Now, only a few months later, Kelson is 14 and he realizes how inexperienced he is. He relies on the help of his uncle Duke Alaric Morgan and Morgan’s cousin Monsignor Duncan McLain, a priest of the church. Both men are half-Deryni. But the church is after Morgan (at the beginning of the novel they don’t yet know about Duncan). They’ve ex-communicated Morgan which means that Kelson is not allowed to have any sort of relationship with his Uncle at a time when a neighboring kingdom is threatening to invade and Kelson needs Morgan’s connections and military expertise. The church is threatening to put the entire region under interdict if Morgan will not turn himself in and recant his powers. This causes a rift between the church and state and threatens to lead toward civil war and even a split in the church itself.
Meanwhile, an anti-Deryni zealot named Warin de Grey is gathering minions and terrorizing citizens. Because they both have the same enemies (the Deryni), the Archbishop is courting Warin, but he doesn’t know all the zealot’s secrets. Another subplot involves Morgan’s sister Bronwyn and her fiancé Brian, who is Duncan’s brother. They get caught up in an incident involving another evil sorceress. Thus we see that Deryni magic has the potential to be a weapon of terror and destruction, which helps us sympathize with the church’s traditional stance on the issue, if not with the Archbishop who is actually leading the witch hunt.
I don’t typically enjoy older medieval-style epic fantasy as much as I used to; I’m a little tired of all the pomp and circumstance, all the courtly mannerisms, and just the heaviness of it all, but I like Katherine Kurtz’s heroes — especially Morgan and Duncan. I suspect that I’ll also become increasingly fond of Kelson as he matures into his role as king. I’m certainly interested in what happens to these people in the next book, High Deryni. Will Morgan and Duncan be reinstated? Will all of Gwynedd be punished for the sins of its Duke? Will there be a Reformation in the church? What will Kelson be like when he becomes a man? I plan to find out.
I listened to Audible Studio’s production of Deryni Checkmate which is 9.5 hour long and excellently read by Jeff Woodman. He has a pleasant English accent, nice pacing, and does a great job with both male and female voices. I will choose High Deryni in this format, also.
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)