Sometimes an article can make you read a novelist you have seen in used bookstores for years. This article from the Strange Horizons website gave spotlight to Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels. I had seen the Deryni novels in my local used bookstores here in San Antonio for a while. I will admit I never had no desire to read them and dismissed the series as typical epic fantasy. However, I read the aforementioned article and learned that Kurtz’s impact on the genre was a lot more widespread that I had known. The Deryni novels had influenced writers like Guy Gavriel Kay and George R.R. Martin. Since she had that kind of influence on the genre, I decided to try out Katherine Kurtz.
Camber of Culdi is the first book of the second published trilogy of Deryni novels. However, I learned from the author’s website it is the first book in chronological order of the series. The Deryni world is influenced by 10th, 11th, and 12th England, Scotland, and Wales and the story takes place in the kingdom of Gwynedd. Gwynedd is rule by the evil Imre of Deryni heritage and his sister, Ariella. And their relationship is a lot closer than sibling relationship should be. Camber of Culdi who is also of Deryni heritage has watched Gwynedd become ruined by Imre’s rule.
The Deryni possess magical powers that come into conflict with the humans of Gwynedd. The medieval church (based on the Roman Catholic Church) views their magical power as evil and has caused tension between the two parties and other Deryni (like Imre) who want absolute power. Kurtz develops in the interracial and religious conflicts well in the novel and kept me interested as a reader.
Camber learns of a living descendant from an earlier kingdom that could help him defeated Imre and his sister. The patron sends men to find out if this descendant of the old Haldane kings is actually alive. Camber’s men find the descendant and learns he has become a monk. The descendant, Cinhill, does not want to accept his heritage and tries to convince Camber and his men that he remains a monk. Gwynedd is on the brink of ruin and Camber persuades and manipulates Cinhill of his heritage and rightful place in Gwynedd society.
Kurtz does an excellent job of characterization for both heroes and villains and I learned quickly that no one is safe from their fate. I could see where George R.R. Martin took a page out of Kurtz’s playbook on how treat characters in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Camber of Culdi was an excellent page-turner and the religious, historical element added a different dimension to the genre at the time it was published in 1976. The novel did not have a dated feel but there were aspects about King Imre’s character I thought could have been handled better.
I’m glad to have discovered Camber of Culdi and I’m looking forward to reading the remaining two books in this trilogy: Saint Camber and Camber the Heretic. I believe Katherine Kurtz is a novelist that has been overlooked in the genre and deserves to be rediscovered for a modern audience.