When young Kelson, King of Gwynedd is reported drowned in a search for the legendary Saint Camber, Nigel was deemed to be king. But his son, Conoll, was too jealous and struck down his own father. Conoll had forgotten Saint Camber....
"[T]he persecution of the witch-like Deryni race is only gradually relenting as the group's members attain high positions in court and in the rigid, established Church. As part of this rehabilitation, young King Kelson, himself Deryni, hopes to restore the place of the Deryni Saint Camber. Reflecting and commenting on these central themes of ignorance and superstition moving toward knowledge and faith are suspenseful subplots of secret magical tutelage, a king's courtship, ecclesiastical elections, a murder case, etc....Kurtz's version of a triple-decker Victorian novel [is] teeming with distinctive characters, fascinated by theology and genealogy...a rare craftsmanship with narrative exposition that is also dramatic and moving." (Publishers Weekly)
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Even though The Quest for Saint Camber is the third novel in Katherine Kurtz’s THE HISTORIES OF KING KELSON trilogy, it’s actually the sixth novel about King Kelson and it’s part of her larger DERYNI CHRONICLES. You should read the books about Kelson in this order: Deryni Rising, Deryni Checkmate, High Deryni, The Bishop’s Heir, The King’s Justice, and then The Quest for Saint Camber. You might also like to know that this is NOT the last novel about Kelson. There is one more novel called King Kelson’s Bride that wraps up some loose ends from this story.
At this point in the story, young King Kelson has finally put down the Mearan rebellion. As the story opens, he and the other boys who are coming of age are being knighted and Dhugal, now openly known to be Bishop Duncan’s son, is being legitimized. During the ceremony, Duncan uses his secret Deryni powers, which “outs” him to those who didn’t know he was Deryni. This will, of course, have major consequences, but he doesn’t know if they’ll be good or bad consequences.
After all the ceremonies and feasting are done, Kelson finally has some free time. So he leaves uncle Nigel in charge of state affairs and sets out with Dhugal, his cousin Prince Conall, and an entourage to look for evidence of what may have happened to Saint Camber a couple hundred years ago. Kelson keeps seeing visions of his patron saint and hopes to figure out why.
Kelson has no idea that Conall, who has always been jealous that Kelson was the one to inherit the throne, has been making treacherous plans that he hopes to initiate while they’re on the quest. Not only does Conall want Kelson’s throne, but he also wants to steal the woman Kelson plans to marry. When Kelson and Dhugal fall off a cliff, go over a waterfall and wash up in an underground cavern, everyone thinks they’re dead. It looks like Conall has found a way to get everything he wants after all… or will he?
The Quest for Saint Camber was one of the most exciting stories in this series so far. There’s lots of plot, several significant events occur, heroic and dastardly deeds are done, some important information is gathered, and by the end there are major life changes for all the characters. I didn’t always believe what the characters did — this is especially true about the woman Kelson hopes to marry — but I enjoyed the story nonetheless. The main weakness of The Quest for Saint Camber is the same one that I’ve mentioned in my reviews of the previous books; there is far too much time spent in church services, ceremonies, and with Deryni rituals. I can’t imagine that anybody, especially at this point in the series, finds this entertaining. I have now started skimming these in the audio editions I’m listening to by jumping ahead in 10 second increments during the ceremonies.
But though I’m bored by all of the church services, I am interested in the major issue that the Church is dealing with in this series and it has some parallels to issues in our own world. Deryni magic is seen as witchcraft and it has been illegal for church members to use magic. This may seem close-minded, but when you see some of the things that the Deryni can do with their magic, such as read minds and control people, it’s not at all surprising that the Church wants to wipe out those powers. I think their “crusade” against the Deryni is completely understandable.
However, as Morgan likes to point out, it’s not the magic that makes someone evil; it’s what they do with the magic. The magic is a tool and a good person will use the Deryni magic for good while an evil person will use it for evil. While this is true, the problem for the Church is that it’s nearly impossible to stop a bad person who has that kind of power, so it’s easier just to make it illegal. But then if you make it illegal, the good guys will stop using it (and feel guilty) and the bad guys won’t. What a dilemma!
The audio versions, produced by Audible Studios, continue to be excellent. Nick Sullivan does a great job with the narration. I recommend the audio versions.