Moving on through Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series(es); I finished the Chronicles, and didn’t really change my opinions. I still never warmed up to the story or the characters. I continued to find myself pretty disturbed by the casual mental force used by the Deryni. Someone in the way? Put him to sleep and erase his memories. And this from the good guys. I can’t imagine why humans would be afraid of Deryni. Really.
Onward to the stories of Camber. I was wondering how all of the Deryni skills would be handled in a time when the characters were supposed to be more highly trained. Which is … much the same. There’s perhaps a little more restraint – but still, if someone’s in the way, put him to sleep (apologetically, though!) and wipe his memories. I find it hilarious that half the characters are clergy, and deeply pious, but they rarely bat an eyelash at the huge deceptions they practice and the monstrous advantage they take of – just about everyone. Oh, all in a good cause, of course – but that’s always the excuse, isn’t it? There doesn’t seem to be a real firm line drawn anywhere, except (for some) actually killing… Lying, taking on others’ lives, more lying, mental manipulation of all kinds, etc. – all fair. It’s so much more interesting when a character finds a way out of a situation which a) isn’t the same thing as has been done in the writer’s books eleventy-one times before, b) doesn’t violate an innocent person, and c) takes cleverness rather than sheer brute mental force.
It’s also all so relentlessly grim. Even in the first book, when the king did start showing classic signs of Bad Fantasy Monarch, terrible things happened, and it snowballed. Which, sadly, is the point of the series: the plight of the Deryni growing worse and worse. But good grief, madame. Early on there’s a prolonged incident of a Healer doing things I wouldn’t think were appropriate for anyone and especially not a Healer to do, including slipping mickeys and a bash to a man’s solar plexus, followed by, you guessed it, a heaping helping of memory manipulation. We go on from there to lots and lots more manipulation, the severing of a hand in vivid technicolor, some more drawings and quarterings (so many I don’t even remember how many), and … so on. It’s proven early on that being a fairly major protagonist doesn’t guarantee longevity, and in fact the cast of characters we start out with at the relatively happy beginning of Camber of Culdi has, by the point where I am at the beginning of The Harrowing of Gwynedd (the fourth book of the sequence), been literally decimated. At least. My favorite character died senselessly – that’s always fun. And now that, er, a certain character is dead (well, mostly dead), what heart there was has gone out of the story. And the scenes of pure brutality – which are usually described firsthand and then recounted at least once, in case the reader forgot any grisly details – just hammer on and on with the horrible details. Kurtz’s background as a historian is obvious throughout in her deep detail – and unfortunately that holds true in graphic scenes of torture and murder. Yay. As I said, the point I’ve reached in HofG has one character having lost 1) father (twice), 2) brother, 3) husband, 4) oldest son, 5) uncounted friends. Oh, also, home and property. The latter several things happen in rapid succession. It’s bloody harsh: she senses the death of her husband (’cause they’re Deryni) while fleeing with several small children and guards to retrieve her oldest son and get to safety… but they’re too late for the boy, and then some: they arrive at the keep where he was staying with family to find slaughter, rape, pillaging, crucifixion, arson, and impaling. Some of which was done to children. One of whom is the oldest son. And in the stress of all of this, she – who happens to be eight months pregnant – goes into labor, then nearly kills herself a couple of days later by riding hard to escape pursuit (is that even really possible?). And then within days her father and another dear friend are killed. Fun, fun, fun. The thing is, I should have at least shed a tear at some point in there. I always cry. I was horrified, but never even a little choked up.
I think I mentioned another problem I have with Kurtz’s style: her strange habit of looking elsewhere at fairly major moments. This continues here as well. Not that I want every single event to be presented in hyper-realistic full-sensory minutiae – but some events are, and for other really quite momentous instants there’s perhaps a second-hand recounting at a meeting a while after. While many of the deaths are lingered over almost lovingly, there are a good couple which got a paragraph or two. Or less. With the depth with which she covers so many small moments, I find it an even greater shock to turn a page and find a death, a marriage, a promotion, or some such has occurred and I wasn’t invited.
Now, I don’t require a happy ending in my reading, but I would rather like at least a faint glimmer of hope in the fog somewhere – and given that the first series takes place three hundred years in the future of this one I know there isn’t much hope. It’s all quite dire. Even without remembering a moment from when I must have read it long ago, I know it’s only going to get worse. I know, roughly, what happens to the young king and his two younger brothers (helped along by someone’s vision of the future – which was a little annoying in and of itself, as the man who had the vision wasn’t prone to them, and never had another), and when. Well, one upcoming book is called King Javan’s Year. Um – spoiler much? I’ll keep going, at least to the end of the book; I don’t believe I have any of the rest of the main books of the series, and I won’t make much of an effort right now to seek them out. And it will probably be about twenty years before I attempt a reread again. Again, good writing, good dialogue, good characters which I genuinely want to like, good ideas… but something lacking. Pity.