Home > Book Reviews > Review: Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr

Review: Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr

I just finished Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr, which is the first book in her Deverry series.  The conceit is that hundreds of years previously a Gaulish people are mysteriously transported to a world they call Annwn (“no place”) before the culture was Romanized.  In this new world, mankind meets the woodland Elcyion Lacar (essentially elves, more in the Sindarian tradition of Tolkien rather than the more refined high elves) and the Wildfolk which are wild elemental spirits which can partially appear in the physical plane.  In addition, some individuals can access the power of dweomer, a magic system which consists of using the elemental powers to impact the physical world.  The origin of the people from our world, however, is unimportant in this book, where the major idea is of wyrd — having to make amends for poor decisions in a previous life.

The book revolves around Nevyn, who precipitated a series of events which led to the destruction of many lives, either by physical death or by tragedy.  As an apprentice of the dweomer, he swears to never rest until he is able to bring his love also to the art of the dweomer and resolve the tragic intertwined lives.  350-odd years later, Nevyn is still alive, acting as a wandering herbmaster, searching for the reincarnated souls who will eventually be brought together again.  Interestingly, each soul will resemble to a degree the personality of its original life, but may be born to another station, learn new skills, or have an entirely different relationship to the other souls (for example a brother/sister relationship becomes a father/daughter pairing many years later).

After recounting the story around Nevyn’s mistakes in the past, the book jumps to the “present” where Nevyn discovers the souls have been brought back and begin to come together.  In successive sections, two previous reincarnation episodes are told, where the souls either add to their wyrd or become slightly more enlightened.  Kerr helpfully includes a chart of the four time periods so that the reader can remember which soul represents each character.

The world-building is largely Celtic both in language and culture, set definitely at a medieval level, with various clans occupying and governing different regions in a semi-military structure.  Kerr introduces several strong female characters, particularly Jill and Lovyan in the present incarnation, who in many ways are the most important characters of the book. Jill because she is both the character around which each of the other characters revolves and because she is the agent of action.  Lovyan because she uses her inner strength to politically and maternally contain the conflict which erupts.

Daggerspell ends somewhat precipitously and it is obvious that editorially the story was split into two volumes (book 2 is Darkspell), but I’d recommend this book as a standalone just for the wondrous multi-layered growth of the characters/souls over the years.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars (finished February 27, 2011)

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Currently reading:  Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris,  Darkspell by Katherine Kerr, & Starship:  Mercenary by Mike Resnick

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