These novels are the first three of a series of more than a dozen Deryni novels. In creating this world, Katherine Kurtz builds on her knowledge of the medieval world acquired in part through her involvement in the Society for Creative Anachronism as well as through her own historical research.
The Chronicles of the Deryni offers appealing characters that readers care about and slowly reveals a richly developed, complex world. As Kurtz continues to develop the Deryni world, she gradually provides additional information about the characters, the world, and the culture of Gwynedd. The story of Kelson is continued in The Histories of King Kelson, another part of the Deryni series. The background of the return of the Haldane kings to the throne is provided in The Legends of Camber of Culdi. This background was later expanded in The Heirs of Saint Camber.
The various novels reveal a rich heritage of Deryni and human literature and magic. The church resembles, but is not to be taken as, the Catholic church of medieval times. It is built on the elemental magic and rituals of Gwynedd’s ancient history, which have been mingled with Christian beliefs and rituals. In this regard, the church incorporates magic in its mystical observances. These observances have their own magic—the presence and blessings of God that all feel. The Deryni, however, experience that magic with an additional layer of sensation.
Deryni magic is both sympathetic (actions that cause or at least mimic the magic) and psionic (unusual mental abilities such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis). These abilities mean that ordinary humans are easy for Deryni to control and are susceptible to suggestion by Deryni. The Deryni magic can be used for either good or evil. Its use depends on the user’s conscience. Deryni, who usually are the main characters in these novels, most often use their magic for good. Some use their powers for their own benefit without regard to the harm they may cause others. These Deryni are the villains. Wealth and political power also are powerful forces, and they are available to humans to use, also for good or for evil.
One theme explored in these books is the responsibility of the nobility to society. Camber MacRorie feels compelled to overthrow Imre because the king and various noble Deryni feel no responsibility to treat ordinary humans with respect. Their ability to control the humans allows them to mistreat the humans for their own gain or pleasure. King Kelson, on the other hand, feels compelled to restore the Deryni to a place of respect and honorable service. He wants to allow humans and Deryni to be treated equally and to be evaluated on the basis of their abilities.
The inequality between humans and Deryni, with both being treated as inferior at various times, raises the question of prejudice. Under the Festilic kings, humans were treated as little better than slaves and often were seen only as members of their race, not as individuals judged by their abilities or behavior. After the Haldanes were returned to the throne, humans adopted similar attitudes toward the Deryni. The prejudice against the Deryni is based on the church’s determination that Deryni magic is inherently evil, a judgment that was the result of human jealousy and fear. The books imply that this thinking is patently unfair and destructive to the society. The issue of prejudice could be seen as symbolic of the medieval relationships between Jews and Christians.
Connected to the issue of prejudice is the question of appropriate use of power. Without regard to danger or harm to their victims, evil Deryni misuse their powers to control humans and sometimes other Deryni. Humans who have power through their positions (secular or ecclesiastical) sometimes misuse it similarly. Kurtz clearly suggests that such use of power is wrong and should be punished.
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