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.
Deryni Rising Katherine Kurtz
271 p., $0.95
Cover art by Bob Pepper
When Lin Carter started the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, he began by reprinting works that were obscure and/or considered classic in the field at that time, but as he wrote in the introduction to Deryni Rising, he had hoped from the very beginning to be able to publish high quality new works as well. The first original fiction he published was Deryni Rising, the first novel by Katherine Kurtz.
I think he hit the ball out of the park when he selected this one.
The story takes place in a pseudo-Welsh land called Gwynedd,. The book opens with the murder of King Brion Haldane by the sorceress Charissa. Brion and his closest friend Alaric Morgan defeated and killed her father some years ago. Brion’s murder is part of her plan for revenge.
Brion has, or rather had, the ability to practice Deryni magic. The Deryni are a long-lived race with inherent magical abilities. A few generations ago, humans and Deryni lived together in peace until a group of Deryni rose to power and severely oppressed the humans in Gwynedd. They were overthrown by a Deryni priest named Camber, who discovered a way to impart the Deryni’s magical powers to ordinary humans. At first, Camber was considered a saint, but later the Church declared him a heretic. Now some humans tolerate the Deryni, while others seek to exterminate them. Most Deryni keep a low profile. Morgan is part Deryni and doesn’t hide that fact.
I don’t usually fan or geek out about stuff – my credentials in geekdom are rarely questioned, but I was thinking the other day about my influences and in what direction I might want them to go.
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 Deryniseries 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 Deryniseries (Deryni Rising, Deryni, and High Deryni) and the Camberseries (Camber of Culdi, Saint Camber, and Camber the Heretic), and even after only the first one, I was hooked.