An Audio-Book Review: The Magical Middle Ages

Deryni Rising

By Katherine Kurtz

Published by Audible Frontiers

Read by Jeff Woodman


The Book:

I’m not sure how I avoided reading any of this series back when I was in college and it was fairly new. I will admit that by the time I started writing my own stories I was rather tired of medieval-based fantasy and perhaps, just perhaps, that coolness toward that subgenre began earlier than I have previously thought.

Even more amazing that I had not read this is that I have met Katherine Kurtz (well, actually, I met Mistress Bevan Fraser of Sterling, her persona in the Society for Creative Anachronism) when we were both visiting Baton Rouge, LA. I must admit to having made a bit of an ass of myself on first meeting. A friend of mine had picked Ms. Kurtz up at the airport and was having the time of his life introducing her to the various people at this particular even, but to his utter surprise, when he got around to introducing me, her reaction was something like, “Oh! I’ve heard of you.” Well this was a surprise to me too. In the SCA I have had a reputation as what I hope is a constructive troublemaker and sometime later I did serve as a regional (Kingdom) and corporate officer, but at the time not a lot of people knew who I was outside those few places I had lived.

Naturally, my first instinct was to reply, “It’s not true! None of it!” to which she replied that what she had heard was good, so I just shook my head and repeated, “It’s not true! None of it!” Later, the next evening a few of us spent a long evening discussing Welsh castles and how some of her favorites appeared in the Deryni series.

In any case, normally when I have met, and liked, an author, I have gone out of my way to pick up something he or she has written (if I haven’t already) but for some reason, this fell through the cracks of my mind until now.

Well, it was worth the wait. It is set in a medieval land much like Wales (actually Gwynedd is a part of the real Wales so I just assume it was meant to be set in Northeastern Wales albeit one with a magic-using race living more or less side-by-side with normal humans with whom they can interbreed… so, technically, they are human too, just ones with special abilities) It is story of ho, following the death of his father, the king, Prince Kelson and his Deryni supporters managed to get him safely crowned King of Gwynedd despite the machinations of various others.

Much of what is in this book is considered cliché and hackneyed, but one should remember that it certainly was not at the time it was written. That other authors have jumped on the Medieval fantasy wagon should not detract that is was a much more sparsely populated genre when Kathryn Kurtz published this in 1970. More recent authors have delighted in writing grimy, gritty worlds and many readers seem to feel that such worlds are more realistic, but for me, this is the sort of fantasy writing style that got me into the genre in the first place. For me it was a breath of fresh air. The dialogue sounded like things real people might say and the people, even the evil ones seem like people, not cut-out paper figures reciting dialogue. The characters could do with some fleshing out, but heck, I think this was her first book and for a first, this is very good.

Kurtz’s world is vivacious and real, even if set in a fantasy setting and I had no trouble getting my bearings right from the start. Now that’s masterful fantasy writing!


The Audiobook:

I’m not sure if Jeff Woodman’s reading does the story justice. He just seems to be spending too much time making it sound super dramatic and while there is drama involved in the story line he does not seem to be hitting the right notes. It is as though he said to himself, “Dammit! I’m going to make this sound dramatic if it kills me!”

He’s not bad, but he only puts in a good performance, not an excellent one. Never having listened to him read before I decided to look him up and it seems that there are quite a few listeners who have enjoyed some of his other readings, so I will have to find one of them sometime soon.

So, we have a really good fantasy epic written in the style of the late 60’s and early 70’s that is fun to read and an audio experience that is passable but does not quite shine.

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