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Literature / Deverry

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A series of Fantasy novels, notable for its extensive use of Reincarnation and the resulting highly anachronic order, written by Katharine Kerr.

Near the end of the first century AD, one Celtic tribe fled their homeland in Gaul to escape Roman rule. Traveling by magical means, they were transported to another universe, where they founded their own kingdom, which they called Deverry.

The main narrative thread starts ten centuries later. Through the use of frequent and extended Flashbacks, the main story is intertwined with the stories of the character's previous incarnations, revealing how present circumstances stem from events occurring in a previous lifetime. This illustrates the concept of Wyrd, or karma. As the series progresses, the flashbacks become longer, with some of the later books being more than half flashback.


Originally intended by the author to be a short story, the work took on a life of its own, growing longer and longer. The series finally reached its conclusion with the publication of the fifteenth book in 2009. The author likens the series to a play, dividing it into four "acts," each containing three or four books.

The novels use a richly detailed system of magic, called dweomer, which is based upon real-world magical traditions, such as Kaballah, Rosicrucianism and the Golden Dawn Although dweomer is nominally a path to spiritual enlightenment, it produces quite spectacular displays, and can be powerful enough to steer the destiny of nations. Dweomer requires both an inherent gift as well as long study to use, and is a combination of Theurgy and Force Magic.

Note: Spoilers follow.

Act One: Deverry

  • Daggerspell
  • Darkspell
  • The Bristling Wood: published in the UK as Dawnspell: The Bristling Wood
  • The Dragon Revenant: published in the UK as Dragonspell: The Southern Sea

Centuries earlier a young prince has found out that the Dweomer is his true calling in life. In his haste to begin learning magic, he makes mistakes and is disowned by his father, receiving the name No One (written as Nevyn for the reader's convenience). A bit later, this causes the tragic death of his former lover, her brother, as well as another nobleman. Having learned about reincarnation, he swears never to rest until he had put his errors right, and the Powers That Be accept his oath, granting him immortality.

Time and again, the principals in that ancient tragedy are reborn, and repeat the same destructive patterns — as seen in the many flashbacks. As the series begins, they are reborn once more, this time as Jill, daughter of the notorious mercenary Cullyn, and Rhodry, a young nobleman. The characters struggle to find their destiny in life, while the followers of the dark dweomer attempt to plunge the kingdom into war.


The first two books were later reissued in a revised edition. Changes to Daggerspell are minimal, but Darkspell contains a number of significant changes, mostly to the character of Sarcyn, who was brought more in line with how Kerr originally envisioned him before her editor overruled her. As a result, the old version is considered to be non-canon.

Act Two: The Westlands

  • A Time of Exile
  • A Time of Omens
  • Days of Blood and Fire published in the UK as A Time of War
  • Days of Air and Darkness published in the UK as A Time of Justice

Several decades later Nevyn is dead, Jill is a powerful dweomer master, and Rhodry has a problem; he isn't visibly aging. As a half-elf, he can expect to live for another century, but he has no right to the noble title he holds. Revealing this would mean a disastrous war, so instead Rhodry fakes his own death and rides off into the sunset, straight into another threat arising from his previous lives.

This time, the main threat comes from the Guardians. Evandar, leader of the Bright Court, has been manipulating the affairs of men, elves, and dwarves for millennia, in pursuit of his grand schemes. Unfortunately, his wife has plans of her own. Posing as a Goddess, she raises an army to conquer Deverry which, unknown to her, would also provide karmic retribution for the acts of the Deverrians' ancestors, when Evandar brought them out of Gaul.

Act Three: The Dragon Mage

  • The Red Wyvern
  • The Black Raven
  • The Fire Dragon

The fake goddess who inspired them is dead, but the invading hordes remain. Now, the former priestess of the hordes must resettle into her old life, while her deeds in a past life begin to catch up with her. In the end, a despairing Rhodry agrees to be transformed into a dragon.

Act Four: The Silver Wyrm

  • The Gold Falcon
  • The Spirit Stone
  • The Shadow Isle
  • The Silver Mage

A few decades later, Jill and Nevyn have both reincarnated, and taken up the problems left from their previous lives, including Rhodry, whose transformation was never meant to be.

(NB: The Black Raven was originally intended to contain the material in The Fire Dragon as well; likewise The Silver Wyrm was split into The Spirit Stone and The Shadow Isle.)

These books provide examples of:

  • All Beer Is Ale: At least some of the beer brewed in Deverry is small beer. After the siege of Cengarn, Rhodry remarks that once the beer runs out, they'll be forced to drink vinegar-sanitized water.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Despite out-of-wedlock pregnancy frequently being shown as a major problem, not only do male characters never seem to hesitate at trying to seduce women, but they usually have no trouble succeeding either, even with women who seem otherwise intelligent and prudent.
  • Anachronic Order: Flashbacks to previous incarnations and to the youth of long lived characters. Doubly so in that later there is one flashback to what used to be the "current" timeline. The chronologically earliest flashback is in the very last book.
  • ...And That Would Be Wrong: Rori's suggestion to save Berwynna and Mic when they first meet.
  • An Aesop Every once in a while, a lesson in Wyrd (karma). Prince Mael of Aberwyn is locked up in a tower for twenty years, ultimately deciding he doesn't want to leave and that this limited environment will be his home for the rest of his life. The moment he makes this decision, he is set free, having "learned" the wisdom of accepting that which is and not striving against it.
    • Prince Loddlaen was gifted in magic, but the narrative stresses that he should never have been taught any, since he was mentally/emotionally unstable due to something his mother had done while pregnant with him. So a gift that could be used to help others and make him feel like a valued member of society has to be stifled, possibly throwing the guy's whole life balance off, instead of finding a way to teach him disciplines he can follow that'll allow him to use magic in a beneficial way.
  • Are You Sure You Want to Do That?: Dweomer masters are sworn to confirm the existence of reincarnation to anyone who asks, on the assumption that the only person who'll suspect that's how it works is someone who is fated for the dweomer. It is also assumed that it's best if everyone not fated for the dweomer doesn't inquire too far into the subject. At one point, Rhodry has gotten some hints he shouldn't have and is starting to ask Nevyn some questions that are getting a little too close to the mark, and Nevyn ominously tells him to be very sure that he wants to know. Rhodry decides that he probably doesn't.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Rhodry notices this about his blue lady, but is too entranced to care.
  • The Baroness: Raena is a subversion. She'd like to be a sexy badass, and does things like take a minion to her bed as a reward and attack Rhodry while still naked after having shapeshifted. However, Rhodry despises her too much to be the least bit distracted, and the minion was secretly repulsed by her and only slept with her because he was afraid of what she'd do to him if he didn't.
  • But I Can't Be Pregnant!: Rhys' first wife is cast off for barrenness, remarries to a widower who needs a wife to help raise the children of his previous marriage, and gives birth to a healthy boy a year later. It seems she wasn't the infertile one in her previous marriage...
  • Career Versus Man: Jill has to face this choice once Rhodry becomes Gwerbret, as there was no way the life of a high-ranking noble's wife would leave her with enough free time to study magic. She ultimately decides to choose the dweomer over her lover and leaves him.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Rhodry at Dun Hiraedd, when Alastyr attacks him in his dreams. Berwynna right at the beginning of The Silver Mage.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Glyn the First.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: As noted in Continuity Lockout below, here are tons of references that only make sense later. One example: Rhodry's silver dagger is modified by Otho in book 2, which makes it reappear to him in book 5 after being stolen from him at the end of book 3, it seemingly disappears in book 11, and turns out to be the cause of his unhealing wound in book 15.
  • Compete for the Maiden's Hand: Cullyn inadvertently ended up in one of these in his youth over Jill's mother, and only avoided getting hung for murder because witnesses stepped forward to prove that the other guy started it. He did end up exiled and forced to become a Silver Dagger because of it, and Seryan followed him and ended up a barmaid in a nothing village in the middle of nowhere. Cullyn later swore to never again kill over a woman after this, which would enable him to break free of the four-hundred year old chain of wyrd tying him to Rhodry.
  • Continuity Lockout: The author has written the books to be accessible for the first-time reader, but you need to read them a couple more times to understand how extensively each book is linked to the others. Sometimes many books in advance.
  • Culture Clash: Between the Gel da'thae and the alliance besieging Zakh Gral.
  • Cursed With Awesome: Nevyn's endless life makes it possible for him to become a peerless master of magic, but after a few cycles of seeing others reincarnate, he begins to wonder whether he'll ever find the relief of death. Similarly, Rhodry's transformation into a dragon makes him practically invulnerable, but drives him mad.
  • Decadent Court: The Cantrae faction during the Time of Troubles.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance Being in a pseudo-medieval setting based on Celtic culture, this shows up in many things. One of the most jarring, though, is in the 843-850 storyline, where Prince Maryn is considered the perfect virtuous prince while at the same time being a faithless husband to Belyrra and an aggressive, emotionally manipulative partner to his mistress Lillorigga. Maryn never sees what he is doing wrong, even when his appaling conduct drived his wife to suicide. Towards the end Nevyn belatedly realized that while spending a decade raising Maryn to be the perfect warrior prince to end a three-way Succession Crisis that had been tearing the country apart for a century, he had neglected Maryn's education in matters not directly related to war and statecraft, and after Bella's suicide he left Maryn's court in disgust.
  • Dragon Rider: Rhodry, eventually, but no psychic bond.
  • The Fair Folk: The Guardians, but not the Elves.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Quotes from genuine 9th century Welsh poetry and the fictional The Secret Book of Cadwallon the Druid
  • Evil Is Hammy: At one point Nevyn reads a few lines from a book of Black Magic and scoffs at how bombastic and theatrical it is. Also, dark dweomer practitioners use extremely elaborate astral forms made to look like stereotypical Evil Sorcerers, while heroic magic-users just wear simple, featureless human shapes.
  • Expy: Only for the 835-843 timeline, but: Nevyn is Merlin, Maryn is King Arthur, Maddyn is Lancelot, Merodda is Morgan le Fay and many others. The whole plot arc plays out as a retelling of the King Arthur legend.
  • Fictional Document: The Secret Book of Cadwallon the Druid and the Pseudo-Iamblicus Scroll are the most prominent.
  • Feuding Families: The cause of many a minor war in Deverry. During the Time of Troubles, many clans chose one side purely because a rival clan chose the other, and backing the opposing claim would grant them free license to attack their personal enemies without political repurcussions.
  • Flashback: Major parts of most books deal with the past, going beyond any normal use. The characters' current lives often echo their previous ones, though usually with significant differences.
  • Foreshadowing: A lot, with probably the most significant one being "Rhodry's Wyrd is Eldidd's Wyrd".
  • Forever War: Nevyn notes that the civil wars are turning into this.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Most often half-elves, but there are hybrids of all the non-human races.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Laz Moj manages this after he has a Heel Realization of evil done in previous lives as Alastyr and Tren.
  • Heir Club for Men: The death of a king who had no sons and three daughters — each of whom had married a powerful noble and given him a son: resulted in the century long Succession Crisis referred to in the series as the Time of Troubles. Trouble brews in Eldidd in the first arc when Gwerbret Rhys turns out to be sterile and unable to produce an heir.
  • Hostage Situation: Prince Mael of Aberwyn spent about twenty years of his life in one. He was captured during his first campaign as a soldier during the Time of Troubles, and not ransomed back for decades because the King of Cerrmor felt that the secure border he gained by having a royal hostage was far more valuable than the gold he'd get by returning him. The young prince, with nothing to do all that time but read in his tower cell, ended up becoming a philosopher, who would be come known as Mael the Seer, or Mael y Gwaedd (later contracted to Maelwaedd).
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: The Elves. Played straight, though it does come up in a discussion between Dallandra and Calonderiel.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: Elves age normally through childhood and adolescence into adulthood, then stop aging until a year or so before they're about to die of old age.
  • Important Haircut: Jill, after leaving her home village with her father; Lilli (twice), first when running away from her mother, and later when mourning for Branoic.
  • Karma: Bad actions will have consequences in your next life, if not earlier. The elven priests also tried to invoke it to justify their excesses.
  • Legacy Character: Nevyn's common explanation for having the same name and skills as an old advisor or sorcerer mentioned in historical accounts. Either the name Nevyn is a title passed on from teacher to student, or he is a descendant of the Nevyn they're thinking of.
  • Lie to the Beholder: The illusion Evandar placed on Dalla. Worked on all humans but not elves.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: There are four major time periods and seven minor ones, and over twenty characters who reincarnate in more than one of them (Not to mention Nevyn appearing in person in many of them). And then there are those characters who are only in one time period.
  • Loss of Identity: Rhodry in The Dragon Revenant, Laz Moj for a short while in the beginning of The Silver Mage.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Bellyra, but she's a good enough person not to be in actual Yandere territory. She commits suicide instead.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Laz Moj. Nevyn feels like he might be one when ending the civil war.
  • Marriage Before Romance: Sevinna and Dwaen, in Days of Air and Darkness.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Aderyn and Dallandra, with the former being bitterly aware of it.
  • Meaningful Name: Nevyn and Yraen, though you need to check the spelling guide.
  • Meaningful Rename: Galrion to Nevyn. Also, Dun Hiraedd was not the original name of that city, but the soldiers who were transferred there dubbed it Fort Homesick, and the name stuck.
  • Mêlée à Trois: Though not in the actual battles, the civil war is this on the national scale.
  • Must Make Amends: Nevyn spends several hundred years trying to get the chance to teach magic to various incarnations of his lover Brangwen after he had caused her death.
    "Brangwen, my love, forgive me! If we ever meet again, I swear I'll put this right. I swear to you—I'll never rest until I set this right."
  • My Grandson Myself: Used by Nevyn multiple times over the centuries. Also accidentally happens to Rhodry in the third arc when some court officials note that a mercenary from Aberwyn bears a stunning resemblance to Gwerbret Cullyn of Aberwyn (Rhodry's son) and assumes that said mercenary must be an unacknowledged bastard of the Gwerbret, who was named after Cullyn's late father.
  • Name Amnesia: Prince Galrion is stripped of his rank, wealth and even his name by his father. His father issues a decree that ever after Galrion is to only be called "Nevyn". That's not a name. It's a word that quite literally means 'no-one'.
  • No Man of Woman Born: The most obvious one is that Lord Corbyn "can never be slain in battle except by sword, but he'll never be slain by any man's hand." A frequently used one is any reference to no one. Since that is the literal translation of Nevyn's name. There's also a sequence which is set up to make you think a woman is going to kill the bad guy. It turns out to be a male character who is part elf (and therefore not a "man" in the human sense).
  • Noodle Incident: Nevyn was said to have clashed with the dark wizard Tondalo numerous times over their multi-century lives, but despite all the flashbacks to previous generations, the only time they are shown going up against each other is their final confrontation in The Dragon Revenant.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Salamander, who prattles endlessly and travels as a common gerthddyn (roaming bard) to conceal the fact that he's a sorcerer.
    Jill: Do you have to babble on about everything?
    Salamander: Well, actually, I do, because it relieves my feelings and makes me sound like a fool, which is exactly what I want our enemies to think me.
  • Obliviously Evil: Perryn is under the impression that he's just good at seducing women. He's actually unconsciously enchanting them into sleeping with him, making him a serial rapist without being aware of it.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The dark dweomer never accepts women into its ranks. Considering the Deliberate Values Dissonance of the setting, this would not be noteworthy except for the fact that the pure dweomer does have female members.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The series would be a lot shorter and quite different if the Dweomer-masters of different races had better contacts between each other. This is mostly justified, though, in that this is only obvious to a (modern) reader who starts thinking about it.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Often vague, but they do come true. In some way.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Elves don't visibly age until a year or so before they're about to die of old age. Nevyn and Aderyn both look old, but are several hundred years older than most people would think.
  • Retcon: Daggerspell and Darkspell were later released in a revised edition. Changes to the former are minimal, but there are considerable changes to the latter, especially the character of Sarcyn, who was rewritten to be more in line with how Kerr originally envisioned him.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Not as strong as in some other places, but a definite element of the Deverrian culture.
  • Seeking Sanctuary: During the Time of Troubles, the women of the near-extinct Wolf Clan take shelter in a nearby temple to escape the Boars. The Boar clan respects the sanctity of the temple, but leaves a guard detail just outside temple lands so that the women can't leave.
  • Silly Reason for War: The first war shown in the series is fought over pig food. Of course, the real reason was that the two noble families in question had hated each other for generations, the swine rights issue was just the excuse (They'd run out of good ones over the course of three generations of on and off feuding).
  • Skewed Priorities: Perryn is absolutely horrified when he finds out that he might have started a war — because wars in Deverry are fought mainly with cavalry, and so a war means that many innocent horses will die. It's pointed out to him that a lot of human beings will also die, but he barely seems to notice that part.
  • Spare to the Throne: Nevyn was once the third heir out of four. Rhodry was the youngest of three sons, and outlived both his brothers. Yraen was the younger son of a younger son.
  • Spurned into Suicide: The eventual result of Galrion leaving Brangwen.
  • Succession Crisis: The cause of both Deverrian civil wars. Also nearly occurred in The Dragon Revenant, with Rhys dead without issue and Rhodry missing.
  • Take a Third Option: Towards the end of The Dragon Revenant, Nevyn comments that he didn't see this possibility when he was young.
  • Trial by Combat: Part of the Deverrian justice code, but generally discouraged. Also, if one party is obviously a superior fighter than the other, the weaker party may seek a champion to fight on his behalf to prevent such trials from becoming judicially sanctioned murder.
  • A True Story in My Universe: The narrator of the books is an 18th century Deverrian woman, though this is only made explicit at the end of the final book.
  • Unexpected Successor: Pertyc Maelwaedd, with a bit of Offered the Crown mixed in. Maryn, in the Time of Troubles (being from a fourth faction that didn't even exist when the wars began).
  • Villainous Underdog: Most antagonists either start out as this or undergo rapid Villain Decay. Magic-users are especially affected, since the heroes include the greatest dweomer masters alive while the villains are at best inferior practitioners, at worst not even true dweomer masters at all but self-taught bumblers using a few limited tricks. Martially inclined villains fare a bit better, but they're still eventually worn down and defeated. Also, most villains are either insane or just very stupid and ignorant (indeed, sometimes their villainy springs entirely from their stupidity), whereas the heroes at least enjoy the benefits of common sense.
  • Wham Episode: The end of The Fire Dragon, which is also the source of most of the spoiler tags on this page.
  • Whip It Good: Subverted at one point when Raena attacks Rhodry with a whip, for no apparent reason other than to continue her theme of trying and failing to be a stereotypical sexy villainess. Turns out, a whip isn't a particularly practical weapon, especially when you've no particular training with one, and Raena keeps getting it tangled up.
  • The Wise Prince: Rhodry, Glyn the First. Rhodry enjoys most of his reign, actually, but you only see him at the beginning and the end when he's not so happy with the job.
  • Wretched Hive: Slaith is a Not-So-Safe Harbor (type 1) and the Bilge is The City Narrows for Cerrmor.

Tropes related to Magic:

  • Animorphism: Mortal practitioners can transform into a single animal, which is a reflection of their inner nature.
  • Astral Projection: Quite well detailed. The written form is consistent enough to almost qualify as Stock Footage.
  • Aura Vision: Viewing auras is the basic skill, with manipulating them being the advanced form.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Discussed but never actually performed. Shapeshifting is a difficult enough process when doing it to one's self, so performing it on an unwilling subject would be even less likely to work without killing the subject (and there are easier ways to kill a man with magic). Besides, as discussed in the tropes below, none of the stories involving this trope mention anything about the resultant frog being big enough to ride.
  • Black Magic: The dark dweomer, which takes the enlightened practices of normal dweomer and turns them to twisted, selfish ends. Unusually, it seems to be in many ways weaker than regular magic, since it's fighting the natural order of things, but it does let you do things like extend your lifespan through blood sacrifice.
  • Hermetic Magic: The magic system is quite detailed, being based on the Kabbalistic system and then expanded with other sources.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Since eyes are the windows of the soul, eye-contact is usually necessary for mind-based magic, at least to initiate the manipulation.
  • I Know Your True Name: Dragons and the Guardians. There's a restriction, though: it requires a certain kind of pronunciation of the name, usually acquired in magical or priestly training. This also means the name can still be used in casual conversation.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Nevyn makes Rhodry forget that Bocc is a thief.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Consistent to the degree that there's noticeable repetition in different books when the characters build Bodies of Light or create Seals. The limitations of magic are also clearly shown, affect the story and are commented upon by the dweomerworkers.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Jill (Hawk) once almost attacks Dallandra (Linnet.. sorta) when both are shifted.
  • Mind Manipulation: A important part of the Dweomer power set. Often done through the victim's aura.
  • Mind Rape: Alastyr and Sarcyn against Camdel, Baruma against Rhodry. Physical pain, humiliation and physical rape are used in conjuction with magic.
  • Mundane Utility: The elemental spirits of fire are used a lot to light candles and fires.
  • Psychic Link: Weak, but Jill/Branna and Nevyn/Neb have one, and Perryn could tell what direction Jill was in.
  • Shapeshifter Default Form: The Guardians consider the humanoid form to be their "natural" one.
  • Shapeshifting: Much more natural to elven dweomermasters, but at least humans can learn it as well. The "Water" race, Dwergi, also have a natural form of shapeshifting.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: Used a lot; Dallandra is the most prominent but the Guardians, Nevyn, Nananna and Niffa are also proficient. Considering that Rhodry doesn't have any training in magic, he manages pretty well in this too.
  • Telepathy: Mind-to-mind speech, often through fire but sometimes water or some other element.
  • Think in Text: Italics are used to show Telepathy.
  • Tongue-Tied: Jahdo in Days of Blood and Fire thanks to Verrarc's clever use of ensorcellment.
  • Training the Gift of Magic: You have to be born to the dweomer to have any chance to master it, and it then takes decades of studying under a teacher before you are considered even competent. If you do not train or otherwise exercise your gift, it will eventually fade away.
  • Weather-Control Machine: Nevyn, Dallandra and Jill, the first two causing Weather Dissonance when a Personal Raincloud appears over only one of the armies present.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Played with. True mastery includes tremendous mental discipline, meaning that the most powerful dweomer masters are also extremely sane. What brings insanity is trying to learn magic without having enough strength of will, or learning a bit of it and then letting your studies lapse. In other words, With Moderate Power Comes Great Insanity. It even gets mentioned in the Secret Book of Cadwallon the Druid, which argues that practicing magic exposes and tests every flaw in the practitioner's minds. If some practitioners break on those flaws, is it the magic's fault?
  • Wrong Context Magic: Perryn's abilities to Nevyn and Elaeno.


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