King Javan's Year Analysis
by Katherine Kurtz

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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As in her other Deryni novels, Kurtz uses rituals and intricate visual effects in unfolding the story of King Javan's Year. There is a state funeral, a coronation, a reception and dinner for visiting dignitaries, and a duel. There are also rituals of Deryni magic performed for Javan by Joram and his other mentors.

There is a subtle contrast between these last episodes and those set in Javan's beleaguered court. Events at court seem shrouded in gray. Alroy dies on a sweltering summer day, and drizzle and muggy weather continue until Javan's coronation. The Custodes Fidei habit is black, in keeping with the grim outlook of this order. When Javan goes through a portal to meet Joram and Bishop Niallan Trey after being out of touch for long months, he almost cries to see the bright blue of their Michaeline robes. Other bright and cheerful touches, like birds, mark other scenes with Joram and the fledgling Servants of Saint Camber. Even while the resistance operates in hiding and in underground chapels, their inner spirit remains bright.

Although the book uses several points of view, the bulk of it is told from that of Javan. This technique reveals that beneath his determined and calm facade, even the young king has moments of doubt and despair.

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Among the darkest of Kurtz's works, King Javan's Year tells of the brief reign of the second of King Cinhil's surviving sons. In Gwynedd's history it occurs just after the events of The Harrowing of Gwynedd, as reactionary forces are consolidating their power. Fear and hatred of Deryni have driven most members of the race into hiding. When Javan's sickly twin, Alroy, dies, Javan inherits the crown.

Although Javan is only sixteen years old and has spent the past three years in a monastery, he does not intend to be a puppet king like his brother. Surrounded by treacherous nobles, he has to move carefully. But he has been tutored in statecraft and magic by members of Camber's inner circle, including Joram MacRorie, the saint's son. He believes that with caution and the help of open and hidden supporters, he can hold onto his throne and stem the tide of anti-Deryni persecutions.

His reign lasts just one year. Despite all his efforts, Javan and his bravest knights are lured into a trap and cut down. This is followed by a massacre of pilgrims at Revan's baptismal lake and the simultaneous murder of most loyal Haldane retainers. Only Javan's brother Rhys Michael and his young bride Michaela survive, and Rhys is drugged for weeks to make him biddable and frightened.

King Javan's Year the somber messages of the previous four "Camber" and "Heirs of Saint Camber" novels even further. The hysteria of anti-Deryni campaigns crosses the line into genocide. The" king himself is not sacrosanct; Javan is betrayed by supposedly loyal councilors using the slightest of ruses. Worse, the men who lead the plot are not even motivated by true fear of Deryni magic. They are willing enough to employ tame Deryni to serve their own plans. Their primary goal is to keep the unquestioned power they wielded as regents for Alroy. To do so they are willing to defy the principles of both church and state and to keep the land in turmoil.

Again, the parallels with the twentieth century's many tragic wars and repressive regimes are striking. The misuse of power by those in high places, with flimsy excuses as cover-ups, speaks to the American experience in the wake of Watergate and the Vietnam War. What is even more poignant in Javan's story, and permeates Rhys's reign in The Bastard Prince (1993) as well, is the knowledge that their task is impossible. Facing an overwhelming tide of events, sometimes even the best can only hang on and hope for history's vindication.

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As an individual novel, King Javan's Year is almost unique in modern fantasy. There are other novels which end with the death of a brave protagonist, but few in which the death is seemingly so meaningless. In some ways, the work most similar in tone to this novel is The Diary of Anne Frank (1952). Like Anne, Javan is trapped by monstrous events which he lacks the power to stop. And in spite of these, he too retains the belief that most people are basically good.