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The Black Raven
Katharine Kerr
Bantam Spectra, 400 pages

The Black Raven
Katharine Kerr
Katharine Kerr is the author of the popular Deverry series of fantasy novels which started with Daggerspell, and continued with Darkspell, The Bristling Wood, The Dragon Revenant, and several others. Her Westlands series includes A Time of Exile and A Time of Omens. She is also the author of the SF novel Polar City Blues and the editor of the World Fantasy Award nominated anthology, The Shimmering Door.

Katharine Kerr Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Red Wyvern
Sample Chapters
Katharine Kerr Tribute Page
Katharine Kerr Tribute Page

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Todd Richmond

The Black Raven marks Katharine Kerr's 10th book in the Deverry and Westlands series. Needless to say, The Black Raven is not the book to begin your love affair with Kerr's books. The Deverry series weaves a complex tale through a number of different time periods and an astounding cast of characters. Her books are high fantasy mixed with Celtic themes and the stories span multiple centuries and several continents.

A common theme throughout her books is the concept of a "wyrd", where a person's soul is reincarnated, sometimes with the emotional baggage of past lives colouring their present lives. The Dragon Mage series, of which The Black Raven is the second book, is a perfect example of this. The story alternates between 1117 ("present day") and the time of the Deverry Civil Wars, hundreds of years earlier. Events that happen during the Civil Wars influence the people, their feelings and their motivations hundreds of years later.

There are several different story lines unwinding in present day. Everything, however, seems to be connected to Rhodry, a half-elven mercenary, and Dallandra, a sorceress and Rhodry's lover. The two are wintering in Dun Cengarn in the Northlands of Deverry. They are keeping an eye on Princess Cara and, more importantly, her child Elessi, one of the Guardians reborn in human form. The Guardians are a group of powerful, magical creatures, all but a few of whom are trapped on an ethereal plane. To escape, they must pass through a mortal existence. Evandar, one of the most powerful Guardians, arranged for his daughter, Elessario, to be born by Princess Cara. Dallandra has promised Evandar that she would watch over the child.

Meanwhile, Evandar is fulfilling a promise by tracking down Rhodry's brother, Ebañy Salomanderiel tran Devaberiel. When Evandar finds him, however, he finds that Ebañy is going mad. Having no idea how to cure him, Evandar turns to Dallandra. But since the Ebañy and Dallandra are a continent apart, Evandar must figure out how to bring the two together.

Rhodry has his own problems. He has been plagued by Raena, the Raven Woman. Raena is searching for Alshandra, another of the Guardians whom she mistakenly believes is a Goddess. Rhodry was responsible for destroying Alshandra, though Raena cannot accept the possibility that her Goddess is gone. Even so, Raena seeks vengeance on Rhodry, convinced that she can make him tell her where Alshandra is. Raena is ruthless in her pursuit of her goddess and has fallen under the influence of Evandar's evil brother, Shaefano. Not only is Raena troubling Rhodry, she is also at odds with Niffa, a young woman in her village who is beginning to show signs of dweomer (the magic of Kerr's Deverry). Niffa is certain that Raena killed her husband, a young militiaman, though there is no way that she can prove that. Niffa's brother, Jahdo, is currently serving Rhodry so it's almost certain that Niffa and Rhodry will meet in the near future and possibly confront Raena together.

As you can see, the cast of characters is interwoven and entwined in a very complex way. Much of the interplay and conflict can be traced back to the earlier incarnations of these characters during the Deverry Civil Wars. Things become more clear when you realize that Niffa was once a young woman named Lilli, Rhodry was once Maddyn, a mercenary, and Raena was once an evil woman named Merodda. During the Civil Wars, Merodda conspired to kill Lilli's foster-mother and caused the death Maddyn's friend, Aethan. In turn, Maddyn was granted Merodda's death as a boon from Prince Maryn. So the conflict, at least among these three, is clear.

Clear, that is, if you can remember all the characters and events from the nine previous books. While Kerr thoughtfully provides a small table of incarnations that is somewhat helpful, it isn't nearly enough. What would be even more helpful would be a brief description of each of the characters and their relationships to one another. Ten books into the series it is sometimes difficult to remember the chronology and the specific events that each of the characters participated in. It's unlikely that we'll ever see anything like this, because Kerr would have to rewrite this section for each and every book, as each book reveals new stories, details, relationships, and secrets. It's part of the allure of the series.

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by The Black Raven. The story as whole wasn't advanced as much as I would have liked. Much of the book focused on the events surrounding the Deverry Civil Wars, continuing the story begun in The Red Wyvern. It's a good story, but to a certain extent we already know what is going to happen. The fascinating part is where Kerr is headed with Rhodry, Niffa and Raena, and some of the other characters in "present day". Unfortunately, the story in present day doesn't move forward much. There is some resolution with Evandar and his people, but the interesting parts with Rhodry and his wyrd really do not get much attention. The good news for Deverry fans is that Kerr gives a brief introduction regarding the Deverry sequence as a whole and where it is headed. The Black Raven will be followed by The Fire Dragon and the series will conclude with The Gold Falcon and The Silver Wyrm. I, for one, can't wait.

Copyright © 1999 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.

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