There are some fantasy writers who don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve, and for my money Katharine Kerr is definitely one of them. Despite a writing career stretching back over thirty years few people outside her circle of fans have heard of her sprawling, fifteen book fantasy series (soon to be sixteen), and honestly, they really don’t know what they’re missing out on.
A Time of Exile is the first book of the Westlands Cycle, and the fifth book overall in the massive epic that is the Deverry Cycle. I’d say you don’t need to have read the previous books to be able to enjoy this new tetralogy, but it does add to the experience if you have. However, if you’re new to Deverry then a quick outline may be in order.
The series as a whole follows the lives of several groups of characters spread over a period of roughly five hundred years. The characters in each successive time period are generally reincarnations of the characters from the previous time period, with the main exception being the character of Nevyn, a powerful dweomermaster, or magician, who lives a single life through most of the events of the books. For the most part each book alternates between events in the current time frame and events from the characters’ past lives, eventually building up to reveal the sprawling history of the nation of Deverry. It may sound complicated, but Kerr’s amazing skill as a storyteller weaves it all together in a way that makes it not only easy to follow but an absolute pleasure to read.
This particular entry in the saga, A Time of Exile, moves the bulk of the action away from Deverry itself and focuses instead on the elven territories of the Westlands. The history of the elven people, briefly touched upon in the first tetralogy, is expanded upon here through the magically extended life of Nevyn’s former apprentice, Aderyn. Most of the narrative covers the roughly three hundred years of Aderyn’s life, how he came to be accepted as a Wise One by the nomadic elves and how his life was extended beyond human norms. This is framed by a prologue and epilogue set in the current time frame which cover the effective abdication of King Rhodry of Deverry, and his own connection to the elves.
The way Kerr weaves the two narratives together in this book is truly masterful. Through Aderyn’s eyes we get to see Rhodry’s past lives being drawn along by their Wyrd, their fate. While this is definitely a book written to set up what’s to come next, it still manages to tell an engaging story that plays with the reader’s emotions in so many ways. Aderyn’s doomed love of the elven dweomermaster Dallandra echoes the relationship between Rhodry and Jill from the first tetralogy and adds an almost palpable purpose to Aderyn’s efforts to save Rhodry’s life at the end of the novel.
All in all I enjoyed this one at least as much as I enjoyed the previous four, and my enjoyment hasn’t waned in the twenty-something years between the first reading and this most recent one. With the news that the author has a new Deverry book coming out next February I’m pretty certain I’m going to be spending a lot of time in Deverry over the next few months, and I really hope you’ll join me there and give these books a read. If you like your fantasy to be truly epic then I’m pretty sure you’ll not be disappointed.