Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr
The Daggerspell Reread and Review Series: Part One

Welcome, all, to the first part of the joint review and reread of Katharine Kerr’s classic fantasy novel, Daggerspell. In the introductory post to this series, Kate Elliott described Kerr’s Deverry Cycle as “a criminally under-rated and overlooked epic fantasy sequence [with] a keen sense of history, well drawn characters, and a complex plot.” So, how better to explore the complexities of a fantasy series than picking it apart, piece-by-piece? If you’re interested in learning more about Kate, me or this project, please take some time to read ‘Introducing: The Daggerspell Reread and Review Series, with Kate Elliott’, where we discuss our experience with Kerr’s work (None for me! Lots for Kate!), and our expectations for this reread/review series.

Structurally, we’ll break down the ‘what happens,’ then we’ve both written some initial impressions, and then follow-up with a response to each other’s thoughts. This allows the initial impressions, and our polar past experiences with the series, to remain independent, and then mingle as we discover how we’ve both reacted to the covered sections.

If you’re ready to get to the good stuff, continue on, just know, there are:

Spoilers Galore!

Sections Covered

Intro + Prologue + Cerrgonney 1052 + Deverry 643 + Deverry 1058 + Deverry 698 (pp. 1-196, total 196 pages)

What Happens

Daggerspell by Katherine KerrJill is born. Jill’s mom dies, her Dad coincidentally appears and whisks her away from her small village, promising the roller coaster life of a mercenary. Nevyn searches for Jill, meets Rhodry.

Time rewinds.

Nevyn (known by his old name, Galrion) has second thoughts about his betrothal to Brangwen. She’s beautiful, and he loves her, but he’s got a new mistress: dweomer (read: magic). Super weird love triangle (quadrangle? square?) between Galrion, who loves Brangwen and magic, Blaen, who loves Brangwen and is friends with Galrion, and Gerraent, who is friends with Blaen, but hates Nevyn because he’s betrothed to Brangwen, his sister who he’s secretly in love with. So, everyone loves Brangwen, though Galrion wants to give her up to Blaen so he can be a magical hermit in the woods, and Gerraent wants everything for himself. Long story short, Galrion is exiled by his father, the king, because of his dweomer use, Blaen wants to marry Brangwen, but she’s not into it because she’s mourning her father and still in love with Galrion, and Gerraent is mad at everyone because the world is fall apart around him and all he wants to do is have sex with his sister. Not that that would fix anything, at all. Brangwen, despairing and deeply depressed, gives into her brother’s desires. In addition, they form a suicide pact, to be completed at the end of summer. Not surprisingly, their secret incestuous relationship isn’t all it was cracked up to be, and both Brangwen and Gerraent fall deeper into depression. Blaen discovers their secret, but on confronting them, is killed by Gerraent. Galrion, now known as Nevyn, saves Brangwen before Blaen’s men come for vengence, but he cannot save her from herself. Driven by madness, she throws herself, and her unborn child, into a river. Gerraent is killed by Blaen’s men. Nevyn blames himself for the deaths and vows to use his dweomer to right the wrongs he has committed.

Time fast forwards.

Jill, who we now know is Brangwen reincarnated, still travels with her father, the famous swordsman, Cullyn. Nevyn continues his search for them and catches the first rumours that the girl he searches for is travelling with the mercenary. Nevyn cures Rhodry, who we now know is Blaen reincarnated, from illness and forms a bond with her mother, who invites him to court. Nevyn hopes that by staying near Rhodry, he will inevitably find Jill, whose wyrd (fate) is tied to Rhodry/Blaen.

Rewind again

Nevyn, now a wandering herbman, shows up in Deverry to uncover the cause of a mysterious drought. The local people think a horse sacrifice will do the trick, but Nevyn’s not convinced. There he finds Gweran, who is Blaen reborn, who is married to Lyssa, who, Nevyn is pleased to discover, is Brangwen. Caught between them all is an arrogant rider named Tanyc, who is, you guessed it… Gerraent reborn. Troubled by Tanyc’s feelings for his wife, Gweran provokes the rider to the point where Tanyc attacks him. For his crimes, attacking a bard, Tanyc is hanged. Nevyn takes Lyssa and Gweran’s son, Aderyn, under his wing as an apprentice.

Aidan’s Impressions

Daggerspell by Katharine KerrIn so many ways, I’m finding Daggerspell to be comfortably familiar. There’re wizards and kings, keeps, castles, herbmen and sword fights. In a time when I’ve been feeling intense nostalgia for ’80s and ’90s fantasy, Daggerspell seems to hit on a lot of the qualities that make the genre so endearing to me, though so tiresome to some other readers.

Kerr’s Deverry series, at least, to my knowledge, the first four volumes, stands part from the rest of epic fantasy because of its unusual structure, an aspect of the series that is impossible to ignore when discussing it. Instead of chapters, Daggerspell is split into several sections that take place, periodically, during different periods in history, from 643, when the first events between Galrion, Gerraeth and Brangwen occur, to 1058, when the ‘current’ plot occurs. Though only one of the characters, Galrion/Nevyn, actually lives through all of these periods, the rest of the cast shows up via reincarnations, tied eternally through their wyrd to each other. So, Brangwen, Jill and Lyssa are all, technically, the same spirit/soul, just in different bodies throughout time. At this point, I’m just settling into this idea, and I’m unsure about whether I should be treating these various incarnations as one character, or several with shared traits/personality identifiers and gender. Jill doesn’t seem much like Brangwen, being very persevering and hopeful, where Brangwen seems prone to depression and lacks independence.

Other fantasy series explore the idea of long-passed events rippling through centuries to affect the current story, notably George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but few, if any, that I’ve read tackle it so directly, and, once I become more comfortable with it, I can see how the double-helix narrative could be an enormous asset to the series and help set it apart from its contemporaries.

If there’s been a stumbling block, it’s with the heavily Celtic/Welsh-influenced names and terms that work their way through the world. As an entrenched fantasy reader, I’m no rookie when it comes to difficult to pronounce names, but the complexities of the Celtic/Welsh languages were often difficult for me and I found it taking a bit longer than usual for me to feel comfortable with the characters and the places, often recognizing the names on paper, but lazily not pronouncing them in my head. Even with the pronunciation guide included at the beginning, I don’t even know where to begin with names like ‘Wmmglaedd,’ which isn’t in the book yet, but appears on one of the maps. I’ll get there, though. Eldidd, pronounced Ell-Dith, I think, is rolling off my ‘tongue’ fairly easily now.

The development between Brangwen and Gerraent wasn’t something I was expecting. At all. Gerraent’s jealousy is clear from the moment we’re introduced to him through Galrion’s eyes, but, the first inkling of his incestuous infatuation for his sister, exposed by this thoughts during a short period where the point-of-view switches to his perspective, was easy to ignore, because I didn’t expect an ’80s fantasy, that seemed fairly traditional, to include a topic so taboo. Though incest has been used narratively since the beginning of storytelling, it’s not something I expected to encounter in a pre-A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novel. Though, events early in Stephenson’s Lord Foul’s Bane, a novel that, alongside Terry Brooks, kicked off the ’80s wave of fantasy, should have, perhaps, shattered that misconception for me. George R.R. Martin shocked me with Jaime and Cersei Lannister, but Kerr was there first, and the victimization of Brangwen is heartbreaking to watch. It’s no wonder Nevyn is so hard on himself, though he’s not the only one at fault. By a long shot.

Kate’s Impressions

Daggerspell by Katharine KerrDo not neglect the pronunciation guide.

Read it, especially as the series progresses, because an entire little drama plays out quite amusingly tucked into the comments at the end of each volume’s guide.

“In those days” — the narrator speaks.

One of my favorite things about the Deverry series is that rather than being written in tight third person point of view, it is actually written in omniscient. The entire sequence is narrated by an outside narrator who has a specific point of view. She is clearly writing in the “future” of the world; that is, the narrator is a writer in Deverry writing historical fiction about her own world. Throughout the series she makes asides reminding the reader how a city has grown or that certain lands weren’t yet cultivated. Because of this there is a constant living sense of a world that is changing as places do. Both through the device of the narrator inserting brief explanatory reminders and through the use of the reincarnated lives by which the reader moves back and forth through time via the “past life” sequences and sees the same places in different centuries, Kerr depicts a slowly-changing culture and landscape. Deverry is never a static world.

This relates to another thing this series does so well. I grant you I’m rereading so I already have a sense of Deverry from having read all fifteen books, but Kerr very efficiently and effectively creates and pulls us into this world through targeted description and small scale scenes. I never feel lost about who I’m with or what is going on or how the society is set up, and at the same time I never feel overwhelmed with description or information overload or infodump.

Because I know what will happen in the later books I can also appreciate how carefully she is layering in many references and names and things that will matter later. For example, pay close attention to the silver daggers. And also this crucial line: “Dishonour sticks closer to you than blood on your hands.”

Finally, a quick comment about the introduction of Jill and Cullyn. Jill’s is a classic abandoned child motif, but in her case she is not abused or mistreated (the owner of the inn and the local lord both give her charity as they feel is their duty, a nice touch that tells us a lot about Deverry society’s mores without at all being sentimentalized), and she is rescued by a dutiful father.

As for the father, note how deftly Kerr introduces and confirms Cullyn of Cerrmor’s reputation as “best swordsman in Deverry.” [Confession time: Cullyn is my favorite dude in the series.]

Kate’s Repsonse

Daggerspell by Katharine KerrHuh. I did not find the Jaime/Cersei relationship to be shocking at all. But that may be because it wasn’t remotely the first time I had read it in a fantasy novel (much less other novels and actual historical examples).

Brangwen’s story is such a tragedy. Brangwen is in fact depicted as a very strong and optimistic young woman at first. It is clear that Brangwen is willing to give up everything to go with Galrion and that she is not afraid to do so but because Galrion holds the same mistaken belief about who and what she is that everyone else does (as a beautiful young woman of a certain rank) he consistently and continually underestimates her. In that sense his refusal to believe what Brangwen herself says to him makes him in large part responsible for her becoming trapped in the situation which leads to her giving up (and thus her depression and death). The very man who claims to love and respect her doesn’t really; that’s the message she hears even if she doesn’t quite understand it as such.

Kerr does an excellent job of showing how a young woman can both have agency and then have that agency absolutely denied by society’s constrictions which trap her. In an odd way Gerraent is the only person who fights for her. I don’t say that to excuse what he does but to point out how well Kerr creates the inevitability of the siblings’ doom: Once Galrion rejects Brangwen by refusing to see her as his equal, the end is determined.

I’ll have more to say later on the use of past lives woven throughout the series to illuminate how history touches the present but basically, yes, I agree with your thoughts on this. The immediacy of seeing the different lives as they play out gives me as the reader a stronger insight into the way those events influence later events than a more historical approach, if that makes sense.

Aidan’s Response

Daggerspell by Katharine KerrInteresting. I think that your point about Jaime/Cersei opens the doors to the conversation about how much a reader brings to a story and how that, as much as the author’s words, helps to define their experience with it. I first read A Game of Thrones in 2003, when I was nineteen years old and it was unlike anything I’d read before within fantasy. I’d moved beyond the entry-level fantasists, like Brooks and Salvatore, but even Williams and Hobb didn’t prepare me for some of the things Martin challenges his readers with.

Reflecting more on Brangwen, and reading your thoughts above, what I find most fascinating about her, in all her forms, is that the character traits that I was contrasting earlier, Jill’s hope and Brangwen’s despair, aren’t necessarily markers that I should be considering these to be two separate characters, but that circumstance can be such a hugely defining factor in determining what traits and core personality attributes grow strong and come to dominate a person’s decision making, internally and externally, and how the reader eventually forms a relationship with them. Between these two is Lyssa, who appears to have led a fairly conflict free life (at least compared to Jill and Brangwen), and hasn’t had need to develop the same defence mechanisms as her other two lives. It’s not the Brangwen, Lyssa and Jill are so different from one another, at their core, but that life (or their wyrd) handed them different cards, and so we different facets of their character, different strengths and weaknesses in response to external circumstances and challenges in their lives. These three women are so fascinating for how their decisions and struggles define the world (it’s culture, societal values, the choices of the powerful, etc…) that they live in. Examine the women, and you’ll learn much about the society.

And, given the intense flaws in Gerraent and Tanyc, I’m incredibly curious to discover why Kate loves Cullyn so much (outside of being an irascible master swordsman.)

In all, I’m impressed. Kerr’s writing is easy to read, the (sort of) small cast of characters is immediately easy to connect with, even if I didn’t really like some of them too much, and the world, confusing names and all, seems well lived in and wide open for exploration. Very much looking forward to the remainder of the book.

Written by Kate Elliott & Aidan Moher

Kate Elliott & Aidan Moher

Together, Kate Elliott and Aidan Moher form some sort of super team. They'll get back to you with their specific superpowers and motives at a later date.


  • Tari May 29, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Where are my books??? I can’t find them. I’ll be ordering from the library. It seems like ages since I enjoyed this great series!

  • Ariel Couture May 29, 2013 at 11:34 am

    One of my favorite things to find in any series is thick character progression, and the use of reincarnation and wyrd in this series is one of the best systems I’ve read for it. I am currently finishing my second read of the entire series (on book fourteen at the moment). Your comment on the differences between Brangwen and Jill spurs me to respond… I appreciate the fact that they are so different because it shows the soul’s growth. There have been hundreds of years between these two women, and the soul has worn several bodies between these incarnations that have made decisions based on their own circumstance and the current culture at the time. These choices, whether they are repetitions or changes, are the effects of past choices in past lives and will affect future circumstances in future lives… what I’m saying is that I think the layering and development are marvelous, and especially so in its consistency. And even more especially considering it is applied to not just one but all of the major characters of the series and many minor players as well.

  • Mary Osmanski May 29, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Like Kate, I am rereading. There is no doubt that someone who has read at least several of the other novels in the series brings a different perspective to a re-read of the first one. One of the most wonderful things about the Deverry series that the reader discovers is that after having read many (but not necessarily all) of the novels, the first chapter of Daggerspell begins to feel like… not starting the series at the beginning again, but seeing the completion of an intricate pattern whose details and repetitions you appreciate more fully every time you encounter it.
    Kit herself has mentioned the similarity to the design of Celtic knotwork (Google the term if you need to; you will find many examples) to the way in which the lives of the various “basic souls” are intertwined with each other over the centuries.
    It is very hard to explain just why readers are so fond of Cullyn without posting spoilers. And I suppose those who are new to Deverry can’t help resent being told, “Just hang in there and keep reading; eventually you will see understand what we are talking about.” However, my favorite Deverry character is one actually of the other incarnations of Rhodry/Blaen.
    One of the things which always strikes me as poignant are those moments throughout the series when Nevyn encounters particular souls reborn in new bodies, recognizes them easily in most cases, and then has to watch as they go through the “I know this old man from somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out where” experience. He is not allowed explain to them what is going on, of course.

  • Richard May 29, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    It took me several attempts to read this book; I was thrown by the disjointed narrative of the different time periods. However, I’m bloody glad I did persevere as this has become one of my all time favourite series. All the more unusual for the length of each volume and the series as a whole – every book (including the last) has left me wanting, no needing, more. I’m looking forward to Kit’s new works in Deverry, if they see the light of day!

  • Kate Elliott May 29, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Ariel, very much agreed.
    It also answers Aidan’s comment about why I like Cullyn — Kerr does such a good job showing his growth over the course of the first few books (the ones in which he is a major character).

  • Hayley May 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    It has been years since I read this series (and re,re,re read), so some of the details are hazy. One thing that has stuck with me, through the mists of time, is that I felt very strongly that it was Nevyn’s fault with regards to Brangwen situation and resultant death. I also felt the reincarnations of her were different people but had the same soul. I am off to the library to borrow the books so I can refresh my memory AND enjoy this fantastic series again!

  • Aidan Moher May 29, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    @Tari — You know a series is good when you’re willing to hunt them down to join a reread! Hopefully you have them in time to catch up with us!

    @Ariel Couture & Mary Osmanski — One of the aspects I’m most intrigued by is watching the character growth of a person who lives for hundreds of years, versus those who are born several times through that period and are unaware of those past lives. Already, through Lyssa, I can see how Brangwen’s wyrd is having an interesting impact on her personality and is, through repeating events and meeting with the other characters, giving her (and everyone else, with their own wyrds), a chance to grow stronger and learn from their past mistakes. After my heartbreak at the death of Brangwen and Blaen, it was a relief to see that they found some happiness and peace in their next lives. On the flip side, seeing that through Tanyc, Gerraent has regressed in his flaws, rather than learned from them or grown stronger, I’m intensely curious to see how Cullyn develops and what his bond with Jill means.

    @Richard — I had the same experience with Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy. It took me several attempts before it finally stuck, but once it did, I fell in love.

    @Hayley — Laying blame for the circumstances that led to Brangwen’s death seems almost impossible to me. Certainly Galrion/Nevyn made some selfish decisions, but in no way could he have anticipated the ripple effect it would have throughout the other characters’ lives. In a lot of ways, it seemed like Galrion, whether he was right or not, was trying to give Brangwen a better life by ‘giving her up’ to someone that he felt could love her better. He should have paid more attention to his own emotions, he was clearly in love with her, and let her make her own decisions about whether she wanted to share her life with him as he studied dweomer (which, I expect, she would have been happy to do, given her own natural abilities with dweomer.) Of them all, Blaen seems to be the only one that didn’t treat her as a commodity (by respecting her wish to observe the mourning period for her father before he began courting her, for instance.)

    Glad to have you along for the ride!

  • Chris May 29, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    First time reader and I’m hooked. Like Aidan, I struggle with the Celtic names. Place names with strange spellings don’t bother me me too much. What I struggle with is the use of words like “wyrd” in place of “fate.” I think its use is supposed to help draw me into the story’s world, but it pulls me out because I have to translate it back to “fate.” A fantasy story will always have its fair share of non-English words, but for me there’s a dividing line (maybe a contested border because I can’t define it) that so far lies somewhere between “dweomer” (which doesn’t pull me out of the story) and “wyrd” (which does).

  • Carol May 29, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    It’s great reading someone else’s view points! I’ve always thought of the characters as different people (but with the same core), as opposed to being the same individual. Later on, Evander actually reminds Jill this in relation to his marriage, which is a funny twist! Aidan, your comments remind me about the whole nature vs nature argument, and this really is a case for your environment and situation moulding you, as really they all start out as the same soul. (Does that make sense?)

    My favorite had always been Rhodry…probably because I was about 14 the first time I read this, but I do really REALLY like Cullyn. I love the way he manages to reach outside of himself and do what he deep down knows is best for Jill, letting her go off with Rhodry, and doing so admitting his faults, and going against his persona of being her father and therefore protector (even though he’s done a brilliant job of teaching her to look out for herself). It just shows how in that reincarnation he really moved beyond what was binding him, and I find that a very admirable trait. I think I may have jumped ahead a bit too much here, sorry…I wasn’t sure where to start commenting so I just lumped in the deep end.

  • Kate Elliott May 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Blaen does come off best of the three men in the original life, I think. He’s not a dynamic man (no need for him to be) but he does seem to be a decent one.

    I really love how Kerr weaves the various incarnations through the whole but that is obviously yet to come, because she does show change over time and it’s a really interesting way to do it.

    Mary: I assume you are speaking of Maddyn. I will essay no spoilers! But he is perhaps my second favorite.

  • Katy May 29, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    This is my favourite series of all time and I love that it’s being dissected, there is so much intricacy and detail without being dull or confusing. As the series went on I would challenge myself not to check the incarnation table in order to either guess or be surprised by the current incarnation in each timeline.
    It’s so hard to pick a favourite; as I read the original post above I agreed that Cullyn was my favourite, then I read someone’s comment and agreed that Rhodry is my favourite (was also a teenage girl when I started reading them), but I find it very hard to go past Nevyn as my favourite – you get to know him better than anyone, he comes with his flaws but just imagine knowing him. Then of course there’s Jill, and later a certain gerthddyn that can’t be overlooked.
    I felt a true devastation when I reached the end of this series, I don’t think I could ever have enough of these characters and this world, and given some of the stories told right at the end, there is so much more that could be said and done.
    I look forward to reading more of your reviews on this series – I’m living OS and don’t have my full series with me, only the last 3 books so I can’t read along, but I’ve read them so many times that even just being reminded of each part is throwing all kinds of wonderful memory images in my head, it’s almost as good…

  • Brendan Podger May 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    The great thing about this early sequence is it sets up the series so well. We have the major players (plus some side characters you haven’t been properly introduced to yet) , the setting and style and most importantly the major conflict.

    Also thanks to Nevyn’s remarks to Tanyc about tangling his wyrd we know it may be a bumpy ride.

    One of the things I love about the first four Deverry books is the simplicity of the central conflict. There is that writing excersise that asks you to sum up what the story is about in as few words as you can and I love that I can do that for this series with close to 1200 pages in one line(You have already been told what it is. It I won’t spoil it if you haven’t figured it out yet ;-) )

  • Kate Elliott May 29, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Re-readers: careful of spoilers! I also have to squelch the urge to gush about upcoming points

  • Richard May 30, 2013 at 12:09 am

    @Chris: I think that ‘wyrd’ and ‘fate’. Fate is more like a predetermined certain outcome; wyrd is more like a likely outcome but is uncertain and is changeable by the person’s spiritual/moral growth. For example, Cullyn’s ability to break the cycle of jealousy and incest between Jill, Rhodry and himself!

    @Aiden: I had problems MST as well. Again I’m glad that I persevered!

  • Claire May 30, 2013 at 2:57 am

    On the names etc, I much prefer the Welsh style to the horrific Irish Gaelic names you often see in Fantasy. They seem more pronounceable, and the rules of pronunciation more obvious to me, than Irish.

    I love this series – my favourite ever – and I loved the interlinking of the times/reincarnations/stories from the start when I was but a young teen in the 80s. As an only child I don’t really have a perspective on the incest thing so it never really had much shock value, and in fact seemed quite romantic in a teenage angsty sort of way. Looking at these chapters now I find it amusing that Jill’s poor mother has to be written out before the story starts. Kit writes wonderful women and we later get Bellyra’s post-natal depression in a very realistic way (I don’t think that is a spoiler?), but Jill is the classic semi-orphan. Her life would have been very different had her mother survived. I can picture them staying in the village; Nevyn moving there as a herb man; Jill becoming an apprentice to him as a teen; series done! It must be very hard, I imagine, to write dramatically about a happy childhood, or even a happy motherhood.

    Final note: does that picture of Nevyn at the start of the re-read look like Billy Connelly to anyone else? I don’t think I quite pictured him with as much hair as that. As for Rhodry there was an actor in Neighbours back in the day who I’ve seen as him ever since.

  • Fazy May 30, 2013 at 7:08 am

    I love this series! I’ve done a couple of partial rereads over the years, but never from the start. For me, the story really gets delightful from books 3 onwards. Books 1 and 2 aren’t my favourite, I feel brangwen is such a pain, but I suppose that’s also where the realism comes in : whoever said a main character has to be likable. And given her time and situation, brangwen just didn’t have a chance to be outstanding. (as opposed to lady rhodda or even Jill’s other later incarnations)

  • Ariel Couture May 30, 2013 at 7:26 am

    I want to say… I’m so glad there are so many people ready to comment and gush on this series… I’ve shared it with everyone I can as much as I can but never met anyone who’s already read it… : )

    On another note- The choice of the naming format actually has a sound basis later in the series… : ) Once the new readers get there, I think you’ll appreciate it a bit more. I agree though, I am a bit lazy with the pronunciations.

  • Foz Meadows May 31, 2013 at 4:25 am

    I read this series all through high school, but there was such a long time to wait before the last two books came out (I think Kerr had health problems that delayed their completion) that I only finished reading the whole cycle last year, when I read the entire thing in a month. So eager to see how this reread goes for everyone!

    My favourite characters are all from further on in the series, so I won’t say who they are (yet!), but man, I’m almost tempted to read the series again this time – or I would be, if my TBR pile didn’t already stretch into infinity!

  • fazy June 1, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    popping by again after finishing the first 196 pages (i was busy with deadlines before and didnt finish rereading that section on time! haha!)

    In my first post, I hated on Brangwen quite a bit. I guess it’s because I was going purely by memory, and the last time I read this book was almost ten years ago, while I was still studying. I’ve picked up the Deverry series a couple of times since then, but never from the first two books because they did not leave a strong impression on me back when I first started reading. (That, and my favorite characters don’t show up till book 3).

    It’s odd though. This time, when I read it, I’m not half as resentful or judgmental of Brangwen. I suppose one reason I had rejected her so strongly at first was because I identified too strongly with her situation and her helplessness? Now, ten years on, I’m much more at peace with myself as a woman and as a person, and so I can find it in me to allow her the space to be the person who she is. (Also, I think the teenage me must have been jealous of her for being more beautiful than me and for being desired by men!)

    The first 196 pages have been an emotional roller coaster ride. I had forgotten how graphically Kerr can build up a scene, and how realistic everything is. The section where Gweran deals with Tanyc especially popped out. (I think I actually screamed during that confrontation. Twice.) I also agree with Kate’s observations: “Because I know what will happen in the later books I can also appreciate how carefully she is layering in many references and names and things that will matter later.”

    Now that I know how the story goes, so many things jump out at me as I read, screaming their warnings into the deaf ears of the characters. I’m loving how meticulously planned out the scenes are. It’s like being in an RPG where you really have to keep an eye open for everything, because you never know when something you notice now will save your life in the future. It’s that immersive an experience.

    Side note: I love little Aderyn! He is *shooo cuuute*!

  • Kate Elliott June 1, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    I’m almost done reading the next section and what boggles me is how much set up and foreshadowing is layered in, in this first book.

    The way in which Gweran deals with Tanyc is impressive and a bit scary given that he never raises a sword or knife; very calculating and brutal. I noted how quickly Tanyc’s hanging is dispensed with. Another writer might have described the hanging in detail but in Kerr’s case it is enough to know that Gweran killed him with intent and forethought; the actual death isn’t the violent part, really.

  • Ariel June 2, 2013 at 5:05 am

    I’m curious- has anyone read the original print of this book? I’m told (and I think it says somewhere in the author’s note) that Daggerspell is actually a rewrite, because it wasn’t originally a huge series.

  • Brendan Podger June 2, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    @Ariel My copies are pre-rewrite, but what I am told via the Katarine Kerr news group on Yahoo is that there were only minor changes in DaggerSpell. In DarkSpell, the next book, there are larger changes but nothing that effects the story structurally.

    A fun game for people only reading the later additions could be to pick the character Katharine was forced to gender swap in her rewrite of DarkSpell.

  • Amanda June 3, 2013 at 1:33 am

    One of the things that hit me strongly on the reread was how dark that character turned between Blaen (who is a genuinely nice, decent guy) and Gweran. I can only presume that Gweran is acting out all his damage, all his unconscious shock and anger and need for vengeance, from that previous life. He lets it warp him in ways that will have repercussions for that soul throughout the series and I am not sure he ever completely manages to recover from it.

    I need to post my other, much longer comment when I can find a moment to breathe.

  • Todd June 3, 2013 at 6:21 am

    I’ve finished the first section and I’m about halfway through the second scheduled section and I feel like I’m a kid again, reading the great epic fantasies of my teen years. How I missed this the first time around is mind-boggling, although I have to wonder if I would have appreciated it more then or if I do now, with hundreds of other books under my belt.

    Honestly, it made such a great impression that I’ve already bought the next three books in the Deverry Act just to have them ready to go!

  • Kate Elliott June 4, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Amanda, that’s a really good point about Gweran. Blaen seems like such a genuinely “nice guy” but Gweran is ruthless and determined. Note how relieved Lyssa is when Gweran believes her that she wasn’t encouraging Tanyc at all! I don’t think Gweran is a bad man or an abusive husband but he is intense in a way Blaen didn’t seem to be. Like he’s making up for Blaen being too good natured.

  • Kate Elliott June 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Fazy wrote: “Now that I know how the story goes, so many things jump out at me as I read, screaming their warnings into the deaf ears of the characters.”

    Haha! Me, too!

    Todd, so glad you’re enjoying it. I think the books maintain this high quality; it’s particularly interesting how Kerr keeps things tightly wreathed around a core plot in book one and then starts unfolding the larger world around them in the subsequent books.

  • Philip Foster June 4, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I’m a little late to the party (and will no doubt turn up late the next one, but I promise to bring some nice wine:).
    I am really enjoying the book and I agree with Aidan in being surprised at some of the themes and how contemporary they feel, the most obvious of which is the incestuous relationship between Branwen and Gerraent. As Kate said though, Martin and Kerr were far from the first to use it in a fantasy novel A couple of other examples are Poul Anderson’s masterful Broken Sword and Tolkien’s Children of Hurin. 

    This is maybe my first encounter with ’80’s fantasy and I was surprised at just how contemporary it felt. There is so much that current readers who enjoy the likes of George R.R. Martin can enjoy. The first chapter really reminded me of A Game of Thrones, Jill was a lot like Arya with her tomboyish preferrence for swordplay over sewing, and later when she has her hair cut short to appear more boyish whilst travelling the road with Cullyn. The Silver Daggers had echoes of the nights watch and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they develop during the story, from Kate’s hints it looks to be one of the most interesting parts of the story. 

    Again to draw a surprising parallel with a recent text, the reincarnation theme really reminded me of Cloud Atlas, and it’s similarly fascinating to see how the different versions of the same ‘soul’ (? self?) behave in the different times. 

    I also really admire the way the book deals with depression in the story of Branwen and Gerraent, it reveals they are both suffering from it the modern reader very subtly, whilst also perfectly showing how the society of that time isn’t able to recognise it, much to the tragedy of those who have to live with it.

    The last thing I wanna say is that I love the way each chapter feels complete like a short story or novella, this really aids the sense of being slowly immersed in the history of this world and the great events which continue to shape these characters through generations. 

  • Amanda June 5, 2013 at 1:20 am

    For me, this reread of the series has been an interesting exercise of altered perspective. When I first picked up Daggerspell, I was quite literally the same age as Jill in the first Interlude—12 going on thirteen. Nevyn was the character I was most fascinated by, the one I rooted the most for and had a crush on. Then and now, he’s still my favorite character. But Jill was my “access” character, the one whose viewpoint most closely aligned with my own. Jill in the later part of the book was like “looking ahead” for me. Now, although Nevyn remains my favorite and Jill the character I identify with most easily, in Daggerspell identifying with her is an act of nostalgia. (Now that I’m in my late thirties, it is the older Jill of the early second quartet I feel the most direct kinship with).
    Moreover, because I grew up with this series over more than two decades, it quite literally formed a chunk of my thinking and perspective on both feminism and social justice.

    Both of these facts mean that for me, a reread means not only that I see things I miss the first time (or even first few times) around because I know what’s coming down the line, I also see things differently because I’m older. And yet some of the things I know are coming in the later books actually shaped the mindset I’m approaching the early books with. It makes for a peculiar sort of resonance.

    Anyway, at 13, I related to Jill’s ambivalence about the physical changes she was undergoing, her sense of being a misfit, and the fact that she was clearly (from things she tells Cullyn) being bullied in her home village. It was therefore easy to focus mostly on the upside of Jill’s mother’s death and Cullyn’s taking her away from the village. Certainly it means Jill gets away from the bullies and gets offered a life with much wider scope than the one she otherwise would have had.

    On the reread, though, I see her isolation from the community of women (and indeed from much of any real community, thanks to her bastard status and her father’s outcast status) as much more problematic. I.e. Jill really does sacrifice something important at a very young age in order to get her freedom and options. I think that limited support network (a few people at best that she trusts and confides in) is something Jill gets very used to and that shapes her character in ways that make things harder for her later in life. Added to this is the fact that she learns very early that there are things she pretty much can’t confide to anyone, thanks to the incident where Cullyn explains to her why she can’t talk about the Wildfolk, and she’s afraid even to tell him that she really does see them. It makes her an intensely private person (although I should wait until the next section to go on further about why I think this, or I’ll be jumping ahead). I also think that this issue of contact with the community of women (Brangwen) vs isolation from it is part of this soul’s overall arc and one I didn’t see in full context until I started reading the final quartet (again, spoilers).

    The other thing that strikes me on the reread of this first section is how big a role parent-child relationships and people who are parents play in this series from the outset. We have Galrion’s relationship with Adoryc, which plays a driving role in the plot as well as his relationship with Ylaena (whose advice influences Galrion’s thinking during the original tragedy and who plays a role in getting him out of the palace). We have Lady Rodda, Blaen’s mother. We have Jill’s very central relationship with her father. We have the fact that Brangwen and Gerraent’s parents are dead and dying, which leaves a vacuum that helps make the original tragedy possible. We have the complicated parenting triangle that Lyssa, Nevyn, and Gweran share re: Aderyn. And we haven’t even gotten to some of the fraught parent-child relationships in the rest of the book let alone the rest of the series!

  • Amanda June 5, 2013 at 4:14 am

    One other point. Kate, you say “Once Galrion rejects Brangwen by refusing to see her as his equal.” But I am not at all convinced that is a complete accurate characterization of what happens. That’s the place where Galrion starts from, yes. But by that horrible scene where his father traps him and Brangwen, that’s changed. When she says without hesitation that she will go with him, Galrion begins to suspect he’s underestimated her; when she begs for his life, he knows he’s underestimated both her as a person and the strength of her feelings for him. Nor does he publicly reject her. His words to his father are “You could let me and my lady go into exile.” That is most definitely not a rejection, certainly it can’t look like one where Brangwen is concerned. Galrion most undoubtedly screws up big time, because his earlier failure to see her clearly and be honest with her cost her information she could have used to survive. But despite his asinine behavior early on the episode, when it comes to the point he a) starts to get a clue and b) fights to have her with him. He just loses.

    I think my investment in Nevyn as a character and the Galrion/Brangwen Nevyn/Jill dynamic would have been much less if not for that very clear change of heart.

  • Erik June 5, 2013 at 7:36 am

    I’m a librarian, and I would like to share a few of my experiences from the librarian’s view.
    What I’ve noticed through out the years the series has been around (The series began to be translated into my language in 1996 and stopped at volume 12 in 2006 for some reason.) is that there’s an equal number of men and women that read and truly enjoy this series.
    It has surprised me a bit as I don’t much like it personally. It doesn’t speak to me at all. Only the “present” parts feel emotionally charged. The “flashbacks” read like voice overs with rather bad dialog to me.
    Can anyone of you who are either re-reading or reading this book for the first time explain what it is about this series has such wide appeal?
    I never had any trouble reading her contemporaries like Raymond Feist (favourites of his are the Mara books written with Janny Wurts, though), Terry Brooks and Elizabeth Moon (Paksenarrion).
    I’m always interested in other people’s views on literature.

  • Ariel June 5, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Erik: As I said in my first comment- The biggest thing that does if for me is the character development, especially considering the development as a whole over hundreds of years. I was also one of those who picked it up for the first time at age twelve, so I don’t know if that had anything to do with. it… : ) I don’t think so though.

  • Kate Elliott June 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Amanda, what you said about Galrion and Brangwen made me really stop and think back to my memories of first reading the book. At that time think I read it very much more as you are reading it. Rhaeger’s final scolding of (and anger at) Galrion was a revelation to me as I had made some of the same assumptions about Brangwen as others had. So I wonder if my reaction on re-reading now is partly a bit of annoyance at myself, as it were, for being as blind as everyone else. Galrion does change his mind; he grows (and grows yet more in the present day section of the second half of the book).

  • Kate Elliott June 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm


    Why does anyone like anything? My comments in the post and in the comments section discuss things I like about it. It has a powerful and believable setting. I care about the characters and what happens to them. The magic is really well done, and the historical sense of seeing both the country and the characters change across time is very appealing to me.

  • Kate Elliott June 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Amanda, also — those are really fascinating insights about Jill, and also about parent-child relationships.

  • Kate Elliott June 6, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    In fact I want to thank all of you for your excellent and thoughtful comments that are opening up some new perspectives for me. I love seeing the book through others’ eyes.

  • Aidan Moher June 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Me too! Just to let you all know, I’m avidly reading all of these comments and really enjoying this conversation. As a first time reader, I feel a little over-my-head, so I’m trying to keep my thoughts gathered for next week’s instalment of the reread/review series. You’ve got me all thinking!


  • Kate Elliott June 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    One last thing: Philip, that’s a really important point about depression. Kerr does such a good job conveying what is going on in a way fitting to the setting but completely understandable to us.

  • Amanda June 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Kate, I too was shocked by the revelation of Brangwen’s abilities on first reading. I think this is one of those cases I was talking about where this series did something to grab my attention and change my thinking as a girl.

    Reading it now, the clue I really can’t believe I missed is the fact that Brangwen follows Galrion’s vision and sees Gerraent’s death. Galrion even asks her how she knows and I still didn’t clue on that first reading. (Interesingly, that’s one of the lines I noticed having changed in the revised version. In the original, he asks onc. In the new version, he asks twice, with emphasis).

    I love the fact that despite his longevity and power, Nevyn is not a static character over those 400 years. He does keep growing as a person. And Galrion does manage to adapt pretty quickly when wrapped by the frozen Salmon of Clue, considering that over the course of the 643 episode his entire worldview, his entire sense of himself and his place in the world, gets torn apart.

  • Amanda June 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Apologies for the typos above. My iPad’s autocorrect is a bit too helpful.

  • Kate Elliott June 6, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Very true about Galrion’s privilege. He’s actually rather self centered and self absorbed in the beginning, not in a mean, unpleasant way but in a more unexamined way.

  • Beth N. June 7, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Here, I finished this first section a little late. :)

    Like Aidan, I’m a first-time reader.

    Up until the avalanche started rolling in 647, I found Daggerspell slow going, a little dry. But from there? Now I have to see how things turn out.

    I cried at the end of the 647 section, and at first (as sometimes happens) I had no idea why. As soon as Gerraent laid hands on Brangwen, the end of that story seemed all but inevitable–death-pact, murder, revenge killing, suicide and all–so that wasn’t what got to me. What did was the scene where Brangwen is buried, Galrion’s gifts put in the grave with her, after Rhegor has rounded on Nevyn in anger, telling him that Brangwen could have been a great worker of dweomer. I believe that those around Brangwen underestimated her, as Kate E. says, but I underestimated her, too. Sorry, Brangwen! I even all but overlooked the scene that Amanda (Jun. 6) mentions, although do remember Brangwen’s having the signature “I have a bad feeling about this” chill down the spine here and there.

    My interpretation of events at the end of the 698 section is rather different from Nevyn’s at the time (although, of course, he must be right!). What other options does Gweran have? To allow Tanyl to brutalize his wife? To let the situation get to the point of a duel (or whatever this land’s equivalent is), which would inevitably lead to his own death? To have the clan lord evict Tanyl, which Lyssa at least believes would lead to her being the subject of malice from the women, and provoke lust toward her from the rest of the warband? I see Gwerant’s solution as working as well as it could, given the circumstances. But I suppose Tanyl wouldn’t think so.

    Like Fazy, I love little Adelyn and hope to see more of him. Though given the dates of the remaining sections in v. 1, that might not happen for a while.

  • Amanda June 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Welcome, Beth N.! The Deverry 643 sequence was the one that sucked me in too, the first time around. Like you, I’m not even precisely sure why that was but I also remember that sense of “I have to know how things turn out.” Unfortunately, I had to wait a while to find out!

    One of the cool things about the books is the way the usual “refrigerator” plot gets subverted. On the one hand, Brangwen dies and her death is a motivator. On the other hand, her death isn’t a motivator for a revenge plot or even just an atonement plot—thanks to the reincarnation, her death is a motivator for Nevyn to help her realize her wasted potential. That’s the big reveal at the end of the tragedy, really, that Galrion thought this was a story all about him, but it was really about her. She’s important for herself, not just because she means something to him.

    I actually side with Nevyn over the 698 episode. For one thing, we actually never see Lyssa consider the option of going to Lord Maroic or worry that it would affect her reputation. She only expresses worry about Gweran getting himself killed in a duel. It’s Gweran who says he’s worried about the effect on Lyssa’s reputation, in a discussion with Nevyn and in context it strikes me as more self-serving justification than anything. For one thing, how does the solution he actually went with protect Lyssa’s reputation? Thanks to the content of those songs, everyone is going to figure out _why_ Tanyc attacked Gweran. Do you really thing people won’t gossip about it or wonder if she’d done anything to encourage him? I suspect the effect on her reputation is about the same either way. And yes, the warband won’t bother her again, but if Maroic had turned Tanyc off, it would have sent the same message. Since this is still in the time period before the silver daggers exiled riders don’t have that sole semi-honorable option for making a living, so this would be an even bigger deal than it is 400 years later. No one else in the warband would have been be stupid enough to risk that once it was clear Gweran was willing to invoke his rights as a bard in this regard.

    For another thing, after saying to Nevyn that going to Maroic would muddy Lyssa’s reputation, in the next breath Gweran says “What kind of man am I if I can’t protect my own?” which suggests to me that it is as much about his pride and manhood as it is protecting Lyssa, if not more. That’s borne out by the fact that when Nevyn confronts Gweran and asks him again why he didn’t go to Maroic, Gweran doesn’t say “It was the best way to protect Lyssa.” He says, “Because I wanted Tanyc dead.” To my reading, Gweran may have cared about protecting his wife, but he wanted to protect his own pride and sense of manhood and obliterate Tanyc for his temerity even more. That desire for revenge, too, is partly fued by Blaen’s buried desire for vengeance. That’s why Nevyn is so upset with him. (And consider that Nevyn hates Tanyc every bit as much as Gweran does and has just as strong a desire to protect Lyssa. He’s not coming at this from a pro-Tanyc point of view. But he’s really worried about the karmic effect on Gweran and by extension on everybody else involved).

    Also, it’s hinted at the end of the episode, in Lyssa’s conversation with Nevyn, that she’s not all that sanguine about the method Gweran chose. It has shown her a side of her husband she can’t unsee and isn’t entirely comfortable with. Also, what about the effect on poor little Aderyn, who is the one who clued his father in in the first place? So I don’t think Gweran acted in his family’s best interests.

  • Tatiana June 14, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Hi there! ^_^
    I began reading the series at the end of 2009. Right now I don’t have time to begin a re-reading (it’s planned for the months to come though) but I really wanted to give my (overlong) 2 cents here ;-)

    First, I think this series should be much more well known! I picked it up by chance. I had just finished my master’s thesis and I wanted to read fiction, I needed a break from sociology. I read about Deverry in a magazine dedicated to celtic culture/history. At the time I almost never read fiction (I read like 1 novel/year), and was totally new to high fantasy. I began reading Daggerspell not knowing at all if I’d like it (even if I knew reincarnation was the big theme of the series, and I found that interesting).

    Again, I was really not a fiction reader. The Harry Potter books are actually the only ones that I loved.
    So I was very agreeably surprised when early in Daggerspell I realized I was completely hooked. By the time Brangwen’s story had been revealed I couldn’t let go of the book.

    It’s also not just that I was hooked (I had been hooked on Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code for instance), it’s that I thought there was a real depth (seeing characters progress or regress from life to life) and a real originality (the non linear story)… Just the first pages already showed an unconventional introduction, that I found mysterious and poetic. Those lines where Nevyn sees larks and interpret it as an omen… I found them beautiful.

    I also loved the historical research the author put in the series, as well as the “realistic” aspect of the system of magic. You can also see that right from the start: the Welsh names of course, but also the mention of duns and brochs, of wyrd (from Germanic mythology); and concerning the dweomer you have the way omens are described or the mention of the Light…

    Well there are many other things I like about the series, but it will just be too long to detail. I’ll just mention the writing style of Katharine Kerr, and the humourous notes you regularly encounter :-)

    I’m quoting Aidan:
    “I’m unsure about whether I should be treating these various incarnations as one character, or several with shared traits/personality identifiers and gender. Jill doesn’t seem much like Brangwen, being very persevering and hopeful, where Brangwen seems prone to depression and lacks independence.”

    Oh there’s something I’d like to say but I can’t… Haha you’ll see when you’re in Book 3, we’ll talk about it then ^_^

    Since I see so many comments above mentioning George Martin… Well I recently began reading ASOIAF and I immediately felt some “similarities”… Obviously not because it’s high fantasy (for instance I don’t see similarities between the Deverry and the Deryni series), but I don’t know… Something in the approach, in the style made me think that people who like ASOIAF would really like Deverry too.

    I’ll end by saying that like many others I like Cullyn a lot too. Not just him, but other incarnations of his soul too. Seeing his evolution is wonderful! :)

  • Kate Elliott June 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Beth and Tatiana: Welcome! Wonderful comments.

    One of the things I most love about this series is that sense that this is a story about Jill/Brangwen coming into her potential. Will she? Can she? What will the journey be like?

    It is so refreshing to read a story like that about a woman.

  • […] The Daggerspell Reread and Review Series: Part One […]

  • Leave a Response
    You must be logged in to comment. Log in