by Katherine Kurtz
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Katherine Kurtz's long-running Deryni series is, perhaps, one of the most detailed and realistic depictions of Medieval society in modern fantasy. Loosely basing her world on twelfth-century English and Welsh society and culture, Kurtz added a persecuted race of mentallics, the Deryni and began describing their reintroduction into human society. With the success of Kurtz's novels, she began exploring the era immediately prior to the Deryni persecution. Twelve novels, a short story collection and a book-length essay later, Kurtz has generated an enormous amount of background information in support of her world. Kurtz has now elected, with the assistance of Borgo Press's Robert Reginald, to make much of this background available to her readers in a (for now) limited edition book, the Codex Derynianus.
The Codex takes the form of a Medieval compendium of characters, places and events which figure prominently in the Deryni storyline. The book claims to have been written by a Brother Theophilus who is apparently attached to King Kelson's court, however this convention loses its versimilitude due to the author having knowledge which no character in Kurtz's world possibly could. Although the Codex focuses on those items which feature in Kurtz's novels and stories, it also fills in the gaps prior to the Camber of Culdi and between The Bastard Prince and Deryni Rising.
The amount of work Reginald and Kurtz put into the book is evident, although naturally some errors did slip through the cracks. Perhaps more notable than their errors, however, is their decision to remain a little too true to the style and conventions of Medieval manuscripts. The entries in Codex Derynianus are not indexed or cross referenced. Neither do the contain runners at the tops of the pages to allow the reader thumbing through to be able to tell at a glance where in the book they are.
One nice feature is the inclusion of listings of various emperors, monarchs, dukes and bishops. These serve to give Kurtz's world an even stronger feeling of existence. The reader knows something is happening between books and the world doesn't merely evaporate. At the same time, these lists, and the detailed entries which support them, offer tantalizing hints at the direction Kurtz may take with future novels in the series while at the same time giving the reader's imagination fodder for tales as yet (and possibly always) untold.
The maps at the back of the book give a lot of details which has been missing in the smaller maps available in the novels. However, each maps shows only a small region of Gwynnedd or the attached regions. Another map showing where all the smaller maps fit would have made a welcome addition and given a good overview of the world. Especially since these maps add so much more to the world. Whereas previous maps have ended in the neighboring kingdom of Torenth, the maps in Codex Derynianus continue to show Rum, the capital of the Byzantyum empire.
There are a few interesting omissions in the book. I didn't see an entry for Jasper Draper, the commoner who hid the Haldane heir when the Festillic invasion occurred, even though other characters with more minor roles are described at length.
Although a beautiful book and worth the price for Kurtz fans, for those who don't wish to spend the $50 for one of the 500 copies issued by Borgo Press and Underwood, following the release of King Kelson's Bride in 1999, Del Rey plans to issue a trade paperback edition of the book for a much more reasonable price.