Flashback Friday is something I do here at Bookwraiths every once in a while; a time when I can post my thoughts about books that I’ve read in the past. With the hectic schedule of day-to-day life, there never seems enough time to give these old favorites the spotlight that they deserve. But with a day all to themselves, there is no reason I can’t revisit them, and today, I’ll be focusing on a series I first read in high school years ago but recently reread for the first time.
Publisher: Open Road Media (October 25, 2016)
Author Information: Website
Length: 1230 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
I first discovered Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series when I was about 13 years old. Quickly, her story of the medieval kingdom of Gwynedd sucked me in. This land of kings and lords, healers and knights, State and Church, humans and Deryni bringing to mind the medieval English past. And added to this delightful mixture was both the deep religious (Christian) devotion of the characters as well as real magic. Both portrayed very faithfully; the characters having no misgivings in practicing magic (more rightly labeled superhuman abilities) and worshiping their chosen faith. But what set this series apart from other fluff fantasy of the time was that there was no “Happily Ever After” for the main characters, just real consequences which, many times, did not turn out well for them. In fact, I’ve never seen another author outside of George R.R. Martin kill quite so many important protagonists as Katherine Kurtz does in The Legends of Camber of Culdi; a statement of fact which might or might not make the Deryni series more or less desirable to read according to your viewpoint of that sort of thing.
The Legends of Camber of Culdi, naturally, follows along behind the aforementioned Camber. This middle-aged Deryni lord having retired to his estates and allowed his eldest son to take his place at court due to a new Deryni King being enthroned. At approximately 59 years of age, Camber anticipates years of dedicated scholarly study and time with his children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, his God has other plans in store for him.
In book one, Camber of Culdi, Camber is drawn out of retirement by the worsening of King Imre’s hatred toward humans and his ever increasing persecution of anyone he deems his enemy. Camber does not seek the throne of Gwynedd for himself, however, but rather a more suitable claimant for it, which leads he and his family to investigate the claim of a dying man that an heir of the Haldane bloodline remains in hiding. The pursuit of this elusive heir to the former human kings of Gwynedd, the struggle to convince this man to give up his beloved life to head a rebellion, and then the rebellion itself driving the story to its final conclusion. Woven into all this is the richly described world of the Deryni, their land’s faith, and the insidious undertones of recognized and unrecognized racial prejudice by the Deryni for their human subjects.
Saint Camber and Camber the Heretic continue the story of the Haldane Restoration in Gwynedd set into motion by Camber’s action in book one. Wars are fought. Important people die. New lives are assumed. Wounds heal but leave scars of doubt. Old characters take on new roles. Schemes are laid. Secret societies are created. Contingency plans are put into place. Political machinations swirl around the royal court. And, gradually, the racial prejudice and atrocities of the Deryni in the past begin to be leveled at them instead of by them. All of it leading up to a grim and gloomy ending for nearly everyone a reader has grown to love and care about throughout the trilogy.
When I was a teenager, my favorite parts of this trilogy were the ones focusing on medieval warfare and political machinations around the king. Everything else really went over my head, though I do recall being intrigued by the subtle magic in the series (especially how it mixed magic and faith together as a sacred thing above human understanding). But during my recent reread, I found myself being more captivated this time around by Kurtz’s portrayal of the characters’ Christian faith; a faith which is a major part of their whole society and is treated both respectfully and seriously by the writer. Too many times modern stories attempt to sanitize a narrative of any religious overtones so not to offend anyone (even when to do so makes little sense from a historical perspective), but in The Legends of Camber of Culdi, the author stays true to the historical basis for Gwynedd (medieval England, Whales, et cetera), integrating the religion of the time (Catholicism) into the narrative without it sounding preachy in any way. Considering how pious all the protagonists are here it just would not have seemed right if Kurtz had completely omitted the basis of their faith, and I enjoyed experiencing that in a fantasy story.
Another highlight of this read is the characters themselves, whom you come to love and care about even though they are flawed, short sighted at times, and cannot see their own high-handedness or ingrained prejudices. Camber, naturally, is the star throughout the series, but many other persons are interwoven into his life, adding great dimension to the story. My favorite being Cinhil Haldane, whose exit from the stage comes far too quickly for my tastes.
The main criticism I have of Legends is that book three, Camber the Heretic, is far too long and suffers from too much “telling” instead of showing. Up until the third installment, Kurtz had penned a fairly gripping tale of a rebellion against the throne and the immediate repercussions of that coup, introducing many memorable characters and mixing in enough suspense to make a reader overlook the lengthy descriptions of official ceremonies, mystic rituals, and the like. Heretic, however, skips ahead twelve years from the end of Saint Camber and spends the first two-thirds of its prodigious length “telling” a reader what has occurred, what is currently happening, what characters are doing now, and how the tension in Gwynedd might boil over. All of this “telling” in addition to those official ceremonies, mystic rituals, and the like which still are described in depth over and over again. It made the book too long, too slow with far too much “telling.” No other way to put it. I would have loved to have seem many of the events Kurtz “tells” me about actually happening, but instead I am merely “told” it all, which caused the pages to drag by.
If you love medieval society, are not bothered by overt Christian characters, and do not mind tragedy in the George R.R. Martin mold of protagonist after protagonist dying in horrible way, The Legends of Camber of Culdi might be a series you should give a try. I’d recommend beginning any read of the Deryni series with The Chronicles of the Deryni (so as not to ruin the surprises there), but once you have been introduced to young Prince Kelson Haldane and this world, then Camber is the next step on your journey through the magical land of Gwynedd.
I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.