by Katherine Kurtz
Cover Artist: Matt Sawicki
Review by Sam Lubell
Ace Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0441012825
Date: 05 December, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Alaric Morgan first appeared in Deryni Rising, Kurtz's first novel, back in 1970. The Deryni are a race with the inborn ability to do magic, which makes them hated and feared by many normal humans, especially the church. Despite their powers, they do not rule the land of Gwynedd (a Deryni king was overthrown in an earlier trilogy, although his descendents are still around to cause trouble). The Haldane kings have their own magic abilities, which require a Deryni protector to activate. In the first book of this new trilogy, In the King's Service, King Donal sought to obtain a loyal Deryni protector for his heir, to the point of almost trying to father a half-Deryni child on the Deryni Lady Alyce, who instead married the loyal counselor Sir Kenneth Morgan, a human. The two become parents of Alaric, the future Duke of Corwyn.
About half of the book is a collection of incidents in the lives of Alaric's parents that do not add up to an organized plot. The book opens with Kenneth being promoted to Earl much to the displeasure of the Church but the approval of the secret Camberian Council that govern the Deryni. Members of the Camberian council visit a renegade Deryni teacher who is training possible Deryni threats to the monarchy. Kenneth and Alyce encounter a village that has burned people they say were Deryni at the stake at the instigation of the village priest. This infuriates Kenneth although ultimately nothing is done.
About a hundred pages in, a plot does start to emerge. The king calls on Alyce to use her powers to start the first stage of preparing his heir, Prince Brion, to ultimately inherit his father's magical powers on his death. Later, the king and Alyce participate in a mystical ceremony that essentially programs Alaric Morgan to be Brion's Deryni protector with Alyce as backup in case Alaric is still too young when it comes time to activate Brion's powers. Soon this does in fact prove necessary when the king dies of grief after his youngest son dies. But Alyce herself is near death from birthing a second child. Will she live long enough to activate the new king's powers? Those who remember the original trilogy already know the answer, rendering any suspense moot.
None of the characters really seem to live and breathe. Alyce comes closest, especially in the personal moments where she is scared of almost using her powers on the village that killed the possible Deryni. But the characters are locked into predetermined actions so that everyone -- even the author -- essentially become puppets to an outline of events written 35 years ago. Moreover, Kurtz's real strength, descriptions of ritual magic, is largely absent here.
Devoted fans of the Deryni will enjoy seeing this fleshed out version of the original trilogy's back story, although even they should read In the King's Service first. Other readers will find this dull and slow going. I suspect Kurtz may have had enough story for a novel but not for a whole trilogy. Those interested in Kurtz's Deryni novels would do well to seek out her second trilogy (the earliest in internal chronology) starting with Camber of Culdi. But Childe Morgan or even the first book in this trilogy, is not where new readers should begin.