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.
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.