Saturday, February 17, 2007

Childe Morgan, by Katherine Kurtz

I could not have been more disappointed with Childe Morgan unless I tried to write the book myself. Let me back up. I am a long standing fan of Katherine Kurtz and her Deryni saga. These novels set in back in an era which approximates England's Eleventh Century in terms of society and history feature a Church and a human population fearful of and persecuting a race of humans called the Deryni. The only difference between human and Deryni is simply that the Deryni can use magic and normal humans cannot. But the Church, which is just as powerful as the King of Gwynedd, hates and persecutes the Deryni so they must operate in secrecy not to advance some secret agenda, but more to try to shape the world around them to be more tolerant of the Deryni race. I loved these stories, in particular the ones set earlier in the chronology which featured more of the interplay between the Church and the Deryni.

Childe Morgan is the second entry in Kurtz’s Childe Morgan trilogy which began with In the King's Service. These novels are set not long before the Kelson novels (Deryni Rising) and the Childe Morgan novels introduce us to the character of Alaric Morgan, so central to the Kelson novels. Only here, Alaric is four years old, and Kelson's father, King Brion is fourteen. I believe that this trilogy is setting up the battle of Brion against the Marluk, Hogan Festil, which we have referenced in the Kelson novels, but unfortunately, most of Childe Morgan is simply that: Set up.

Rather than the political and cultural intrigue which Katherine Kurtz has so successfully treated her readers to over the past thirty years, she instead focuses two thirds of Childe Morgan on Alaric's mother, Alyce de Coursy, and her relationship with her husband Kenneth Morgan, and a little bit of hinting by the King Donal Haldane that Alaric will have to be Brion's Deryni protector, but very little actually happens in the first two thirds of the book. I described Childe Morgan as mostly set up, but that is inaccurate. Childe Morgan is waiting for a set up. It is stasis. We learn a little bit about Alyce and her sister Vera, are introduced to Duncan (another player in the Kelson novels), and pretty much Katherine Kurtz spends the novel preparing Gwynedd for Alaric and Brion and later Kelson by moving several pieces around and hinting at Deryni magic.

In the final third of the volume there are several events which could rightly be called Major Events, but somehow in the telling they feel like Minor Events, and that is not a good thing. These huge events (in terms of this trilogy) somehow fail to resonate. There is a sense of relief that finally, something is happening, but the emotion is diminished by the fact that by this point in the novel I didn't care. An action sequence late in the novel does work well, but it is too little too late.

If I were not so invested in the Deryni novels and count several of them among my favorite works of fantasy, I would have given up long before I go to the last third of this 250 page novel. At least in the earlier Deryni novels the reader could get the sense that major acts are in the works, there was intrigue, risk, and excitement even in the description of arcane magic and Church politics. It's all missing here.

I will read the third Childe Morgan novel when it comes out and I will hope that when Katherine Kurtz writes her 948 novel that it will reclaim that vitality that she had when writing about Camber, Joram, Evaine and others, but that vitality is sadly lost here and I cannot recommend Childe Morgan to anyone, not even fans of the Deryni.

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