Starting with Daggerspell (1986), this epic fantasy series of fifteen novels follows events in the land of Deverry over hundreds of years while maintaining a storyline that wraps tightly around itself in the manner of Celtic interlace.
Rather than describe the plot or characters, let me explain why I believe those of you who have not read this series should absolutely pick up the first book.
1) After reading through fifteen volumes with many characters, I can still name and describe ALL of the major characters and many of the minor ones because I became so invested in their stories. Memorable characters with compelling story-lines equals a gripping series.
2) Kerr’s world is not static. Her technique is subtle but assured as she unfolds how a culture changes over time. Villages become towns become cities. Warbands expand into armies. The political structure of the early kingdom shifts from more localized centers of regional power to a more centralized kingship. The spinning wheel is invented. When my spouse, an archaeologist, read Daggerspell, he said, “This is the best depiction of a chieftain-level society I’ve ever read.”
3) In other words, the world feels real and acts real. As with the world in Sherwood Smith’s Inda series, I believe Deverry could exist somewhere. After reading the books, I feel as if I have been there. I still think about events and dramatic moments in this series frequently, rather as I do memories from my actual life. That’s how much the narrative worked its way into my mind and heart.
4) This series offers a master class in how to use third person omniscient narration.
5) Not only has Kerr done her linguistics homework but she has fun with it. Do enjoy the asides in the prefaces that discuss pronunciation and language. Names and pronounciations change over time, and different societies have different languages and thus different names and different ways of speaking. It’s all woven seamlessly into the whole, not at all intrusive or awkward.
6) An extremely well drawn and workable magic system whose practitioners become adepts because of the degree of study and work they put in rather than through “natural talent.” While it is true that some people have an affinity for magic, you can’t become powerful through “chosen-ness.”
8) Dwarven women. Not at all what you think.
9) Some of the societies we meet in Deverry are patriarchal and yet Kerr continually gives women important roles and a variety of roles. Her women characters have agency.
10) Not all of the societies we meet in the series are patriarchal. They are varied, and unique, and interesting, with their own histories and languages (see 5, above)
11) The way she creates the institution of the “silver daggers” (disgraced men forced to “hire themselves out for coin”–which is seen as dishonorable in this society) and then threads it through the entire sequence. Brilliant.
12) In the early books especially, all politics are local, and lords’ warbands are fairly small groups of fighting men. Kerr, a football (NFL) fan, used her observations of the dynamics of football teams and games as part of the way in which she created the relationships between the warriors and the way battles — before, during, and after — are fought. It’s not noticeable. I just happen to know she did it, and for me the way she delves into the psychology and tactics and strategy of warfare in this type of society comes across as quite realistic and never cliched or stereotyped.
13) Which Deverry hero is the hottest? A lengthy discussion (may contain spoilers). This post was part of deverry15, an online tribute to the Deverry sequence upon publication of the final volume.
14) You can read through deverry15’s posts and links HERE.
15) The Deverry sequence is probably my favorite post-Tolkien epic fantasy series.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
[I would love to do a read-through of the entire series (the kind of thing they’ve been doing for a while not at Tor.com with other epic fantasy series, mostly by men) but at the moment I do not have time to administer it.]