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Camber of Culdi by Katherine Kurtz

Review by Tree 2004-09-24

Where to begin? I am re-reading the whole Camber-Deryni series so ably written by Katherine Kurtz.

I originally read the first published book of the series, Deryni Rising, many years ago. As time progressed, I breathlessly awaited new sequels, an uncomfortable experience for my sometimes impatient self, which likes to have the next exciting book lined up, on hand and ready to go.

Now, since it has been so long since I have read them, I am enjoying the books with renewed and matured interest.

But this time, I have started with the first of the books, chronologically. Many will recommend against this, but I disagree. The prequels are deep and compelling. Since the Deryni books fall into the category of those with vast histories, many unforgettable characters, and quantities of place names, I suggest, for both the sake of the readerís memory, and the readerís enjoyment, that the dangerous, tender, powerful Camber of Culdi is the novel to start with.

The story takes place in the kingdom of Gwynedd, part of a medieval world similar to England, Scotland, and Wales. In this medieval world, the church, similar to the Catholic Church of history, holds sway. There are kings and dukes, there are bishops and prelates. The contrasts and characterizations of the secular and spiritual rulers represent an ongoing theme of the book. In addition, there are two races vying for supremacy: humans and Deryni. Members of these races can be good or evil, but I find myself, as intended, Iím sure, generally rooting for the Deryni, who possess magic powers similar to ESP. The Derni have portals to be created, rituals to be completed, and most of all, healing, truth reading, and memory-tampering abilities to be used. The Deryni are much feared because of their powers, and so must employ a great deal of intrigue in order to bring about good in the world. Remember Mad Magazineís Spy vs. Spy? Here in Camber of Culdi can be found a more serious treatment of opposition. There is murder, mayhem, surprise, secret ritual, secret alliance, and double-crossing secret strategy to keep readers in suspense.

Camber of Culdi, like the other Deryni novels, is themed with opposites. There is the standard fantasy theme, good against evil, a must for me. There is magic against normalcy, spiritual against secular. Magical and spiritual rituals are often described as using black and white cubes to further extend the feel of opposites. The archangelic rituals, with their four-cornered wardings, have especially fascinated me, since I have not been exposed to many religious rites.

One of the distinctive aspects of Camber of Culdi, and the rest of the series, is the authorís faithful description of dress. A picture is carefully crafted for you, so that you pretty much know what everyone is wearing. The lovely bright colors revealed in the stories help the reader to imagine the characters and scenes. These clothing descriptions continue and increase throughout the series:

ďHe never learned where they got the gold-washed mail, the stuff had a cold unearthly glow about it which he did not care to think about. This was to go over an undergarment of white silk, a doublet of softest leather cushioning the metal links from his skin. Greaves of gold-chased steel buckled over leather breeches and boots; matching vambraces guarded his forearms. Scarlet gauntlets, rich-embroidered with his Haldane crest on the cuff, were the gift of the slain Cathanís Elinor. Over all would go the knee-length surcoat of crimson silk, with the golden lion of Gwynned blazoned bold on chest and back in gold-bullion thread.Ē

The characters of Camber of Culdi are many and well developed. My special favorite is Evaine, who, while esoterically powerful, possesses a tender concern for her family that I aspire to. My favorite and most hated villain is the sneaky and dastardly Bishop Hubert, of the obese body and cherubic rosebud lips. His villainy continues through the next few books, where Hubert is seen heading up a regency in cruel control of the young kings of Gwynedd. Bishop Hubert is despicable and will stoop to anything.

Wisely, the author has placed an index of characters, an index of place names, and family trees in the back of the book. These are necessary because of the historic depth of the series, which takes place over several centuries. The novels utilize a detailed world you can lose yourself in. For example, in Camber of Culdi a royal procession of forty or fifty people is described. As I read about the procession, I recognized and felt fairly intimate with about twenty-two of the characters named. Needless to say, I also was made aware of the clothing worn by each one. Joan Rivers, eat your heart out.

As the series continues, more and more words are introduced to the readers, many of them ecclesiastic, architectural, or having to do with art and fabric. For the purposes of this review, I went through my old copy of Camber of Culdi and quickly yellow-inked some words new to me: sacristy, per intercessionem (lots of Latin or Latin-like words are used), sacerdotal, thurible, and interregnum.

Looking for a whole new worthy world to assimilate into your consciousness? I recommend absorbing the Deryni one, starting with Camber of Culdi, by Katherine Kurtz.

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