High Deryni, originally published in 1973, is the third novel in Katherine Kurtz’s DERYNI CHRONICLES. In the first novel, Deryni Rising, young Prince Kelson, who has inherited some Deryni magic, took his dead father’s throne after fighting an evil sorceress. In the second novel, Deryni Checkmate, tensions rose after the Church (obviously based on the medieval Catholic Church of our world) excommunicated Alaric Morgan and Duncan McLain, two of Kelson’s relatives and advisors.
As the third novel starts, the Church has just split over the Deryni issue. Traditionally the clergy has viewed any sort of magic as evil, akin to the witchcraft which their Holy Scriptures clearly forbids. They’re also worried that the Deryni will use their powers to overturn legitimate benevolent governments, undermine the Church, and establish malevolent dictatorships. Looking at the history of Gwynedd, and thinking about our own history, it’s easy to understand their point of view. But, unfortunately, the Church has dealt with their fear by persecuting anyone who has any Deryni blood. Recently a more progressive minority of Church leaders has split off. They recognize that since the Deryni power is inherited, being Deryni is not the problem; rather, it’s how a Deryni chooses to use his or her power that the Church should be concerned with. This ecclesiastical unrest threatens to cause civil war at a time when Gwynedd needs to unite against outside enemies.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous review of this trilogy, these days I don’t often find myself in the mood for this sort of heavy-feeling medieval-style epic fantasy, but Kurtz has won me over with her engaging characters and the murky religious, political, and personal issues they have to deal with. In High Deryni we discover that Deryni powers are not as uncommon amongst the clergy as you’d expect based on their talk. We also discover a secret council of Deryni that works behind the scenes and only for its own good. When it’s discovered that some Deryni have the power of healing, something they thought was lost, everyone is forced to deal with fundamental questions about the origins of good and evil.
Some readers may feel like a couple of the critical crises were too easily resolved by talking it out, but I appreciated Kurtz’s acknowledgement that intelligent reasonable people can sometimes work things out using logic and persuasion instead of weapons. In fact, I thought these instances seemed more realistic than if Kurtz had staged showy sword fights. This isn’t to suggest that High Deryni lacks weapons and war because there’s plenty of that, too, along with torture, murder, kidnappings, and rescues, but the tensions that have been building up for two books now do seem to fizzle out fairly easily. I think most readers would agree that the promised “final battle” is a dud, and I’m on their side with that complaint. Likewise, the plot twist at the end, which caused the final battle to be a dud, was completely unbelievable (SPOILER, highlight if you want to read it: Why didn’t the imposter just kill the bad guy long ago? He had the power and plenty of opportunity. He could have saved a lot of trouble, not to mention lives, if he had done so.) It felt like Katherine Kurtz checked out of the novel just a little too soon.
Still I’m interested in these characters and I want to read on. What will King Kelson be like when he’s an adult? What will happen with Morgan and the lady he fell in love with at first sight (yuck)? How will the Church deal with the Deryni issue from now on? I want to know. I’ll continue to listen to the audio versions of the DERYNI CHRONICLES. These are produced by Audible Studios and they’re excellent so far. I love Jeff Woodman’s performance.
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)