Birthday Reviews: Katherine Kurtz’s “Venture in Vain”

Birthday Reviews: Katherine Kurtz’s “Venture in Vain”

Venture in Vain
Venture in Vain

Katherine Kurtz was born on October 18, 1944.

Kurtz won the coveted Balrog Award for her novel Camber the Heretic in 1982. Volumes in her Deryni series have been nominated for the British Fantasy Award, the Gandalf Award, and the Mythopoeic Award. Kurtz was one of the Guests of Honor at the 1996 World Fantasy Convention held in Schaumburg, Illinois. She has collaborated with Deborah Turner Harris on the Adept and Templar Knights series, with Robert Reginald on Codex Derynianus, with Scott MacMillan on the Knights of the Blood series and some short fiction. She has edited or co-edited anthologies of short stories set in her Deryni and Templar Knights worlds.

“Venture in Vain” was published as a chapbook, issued to commemorate Kurtz’s 2001 visit to the John M. Pfau Library at California State University at San Bernardino. Only 300 copies were printed and the story has never been reprinted. Each copy was autographed.

The Deryni cycle is a historically based fantasy series modeled after the Welsh kingdom which focuses on dynastic conflict combined with the inclusion of the race of Deryni, who have magical and psychic abilities that cause them to be feared by the humans they live among. “Venture in Vain” is set thirty-one years prior to the events of Kurtz’s original trilogy, although she has also written several volumes and short stories that are set before the story. It focuses on a group of Mearan nobility, including two princesses, who are fleeing before a Gwynedd invasion. The story opens with a brief description of the dynastic intrigues which explain why the Mearans are fighting for the man they view as their rightful prince, Judhael III, and why Gwynedd King Donal Blaine Haldane views himself as the rightful ruler of Meara.

Kurtz’s attention to detail, the creation of a multifaceted society, and her characters are what bring the Deryni novels to life and give them the feel that Kurtz is reporting on actual historical events. Within the confines of “Venture in Vain,” Kurtz doesn’t have a lot of time to provide focus to each element of her stories, so the story works best for those with prior familiarity to the world of the Deryni. She is able to explain the dynastic situation, create characters, who while not fully fleshed out do show complexity. When the Deryni Morian ap Lewys catches the fugitives, he notes that none of them are villains and they are doing what they must because that is how their roles play out for them. While Kurtz doesn’t show the complex magic that plays a role in so many of the stories, she does demonstrate the subtlety of Deryni powers when Morian questions Sir Frances and Sir Robard.

As with many of Kurtz’s short stories set in the world of the Deryni, this one fleshes out the backstory for a minor character. Princess Caitlin would go on to become the pretender to the Mearan throne and would try to exact her revenge on Donal Blaine’s son, Brion, and grandson, Kelson, in Kurtz’s The History of King Kelson trilogy.

Reviewed in its only publication in the chapbook Venture in Vain, by Katherine Kurtz, Millefleurs, 2001.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joe H.

I like Kurtz and think she doesn’t necessarily get as much recognition as she deserves as a precursor to Martin et al., but I’m glad I’m not a superfan because if I was, knowing that this exists would be like a splinter in my mind, driving me mad.

Thomas Parker

I’ve always been curious about the Deryni books, but I’ve never taken the plunge. For some reason I’ve always assumed they’re like the old John Forsythe/Joan Collins soap opera Dynasty, but with codpieces.

Joe H.

No, they’re very much not like that — I’d recommend checking out at least the original trilogy (which were first published by Lin Carter as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series).

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x