Like most of Kurtz's books, The Harrowing of Gwynedd is written in a non-obtrusive style, with third-person narration and a straightforward sequence of events. The viewpoint changes as the story shifts back and forth between scenes involving the several major characters.
One unusual feature of the author's style is the attention she gives to visual image-building. In the novels which feature warfare, the descriptions of feudal panoply—the bright banners and glittering horses' harness and the warriors' colorful regalia—are painted in vivid and evocative detail. In the present book, passages about the invocation of powerful magic play a climatic part similar to that of battles in standard fantasy. These scenes of magical rites are described step by step so that the reader can visualize and almost feel the objects handled and the unseen powers that are being manipulated. This technique works effectively to strengthen suspense, so that the revelations which end such scenes have maximum impact.
Quasi-medieval settings and plots about maintaining a rightful royal line through battle and sorcery are common in contemporary fantasy. Kurtz's books differ from the standard fantasy novel in several ways. They are unusual in the amount of emphasis they put on political machinations and on the influence of religion in the characters' lives. Deryni powers draw on a well-worked-out theory of magic, rather than merely being called up to produce "special effects." A final distinguishing feature of Kurtz's fantasy is its heavy focus on the price of power—both political and magical—rather than on its glories.
Perhaps the works most comparable to the Deryni novels on a general thematic level are two series usually classified as science fiction: Bradley's Darkover books and Lichtenberg's Sime-Gen series. The Deryni books have in common with Sime-Gen an overarching concern with bigotry and its poisonous fruits, including the...
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