I’ve been reading a lot of space opera and really hard sci-fi lately, mostly Alastair Reynolds with a side of Stephen Baxter, as I get ready to start a new novel. But hard sci-fi and fantasy are just setting. Any plot structure can fit inside them. Baxter is a lot of adventure. Reynolds is very noir.
That got me to thinking about what stories I enjoyed and why. One of the appeals of Game of Thrones is how it’s a giant soap opera. Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men was similarly soapy, as was the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.
And that reminded me of how much I loved Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series as a teen. The Kingdom of Gwynedd, a human world of the Middle Ages with a scattering of persecuted psionic families, has always seemed to me to be one of those surprisingly under-appreciated corners of fantasy.
The only reason I’d ever heard of it was because of issue #78 of Dragon magazine, which was an issue devoted to psionics in AD&D, and one of the articles featured the characters of Kurtz’s Gwynedd in role-playing terms. I looked for her books at my local second-hand store as soon as I could.
Right away, I found two of Kurtz’s core trilogies, the Deryni series (Deryni Rising, Deryni, and High Deryni) and the Camber series (Camber of Culdi, Saint Camber, and Camber the Heretic), and even after only the first one, I was hooked.
Kurtz, a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, layered in such religious, social, and cultural detail that the novels were an immersive experience. At the same time, they were fast-paced, with high stakes. But most importantly, I think they had two of the key elements that made Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men so strong: the soap opera and the persecution.
The persecution story is powerful and haunting and it gets beneath your skin and sticks there with barbs. Good people get hurt and killed because of the ignorance and needless prejudices of the larger world.
The Christian church is a powerful, three-dimensionally good and evil organization, with admirable, godly men and people who would have comfortably fit in the Spanish Inquisition. It frustrates because it doesn’t need to happen, but it does, just like it does in real life.
The Camber series has a similar epic adventure feel, but is to my mind much darker, because it happens 200 years before the Deryni series and shows how the Deryni, once respected members of society, come to a crashing fall as prejudice takes over.
Some of Kurtz’s later books in the same universe are still good, but there’s a slow decline from the power of her earliest work. Still, the depth of character, culture, and religion, and the examination of persecution and human ignorance, made such a rich tapestry that I realized that Kurtz’s two trilogies have a lot for me to think about as I embark on a new novel.
I recommend these two trilogies to any fantasy fan.
Derek writes science fiction, fantasy and sometimes horror in Gatineau, Quebec. You can find out more about him at www.derekkunsken.com or @derekkunsken.