Codex Derynianus by Katherine Kurtz and Robert Reginald (book review)

December 27, 2016 | By | Reply More

Kathryn Kurtz’s ‘Deryni’ series of books passed me by, it has to be admitted, but having come across one or two references to them elsewhere, I had hoped that this reference guide to the series might form a useful introduction. Alas, that was not the case, but that particular failing shouldn’t be seen as a damning criticism of the ‘Codex Derynianus’ as such but more an observation on the nature of genre fiction reference books generally.

This particular guidebook, ‘Codex Derynianus’, is written completely from within the universe, in very much the style of a mediaeval chronicle similar to the sorts of things written by European monks a thousand years ago. Latin or at least Latin-like phrases and names are used freely, as are Roman numerals and the sorts of terminology that would have been entirely appropriate to an mediaeval cleric or monk. While this certainly lends the book an air of verisimilitude, it doesn’t make the ‘Codex Derynianus’ an easy read. On the contrary, this book is almost entirely impenetrable to someone who isn’t familiar with the books.

The first Deryni book was published in 1970 and literally dozens have been published since that time, Kurtz having released her most recent addition to the series in 2014. The world she’s created is loosely based on mediaeval Europe, primarily the kingdoms, religions, cultures and geology of the northwest of Europe, but with enough differences in geography and history to ensure the world of the Deryni feels new and interesting. One aim of the ‘Codex Derynianus’ is to help tidy this all up, with maps and descriptions of the various kingdoms and cities, so that readers can remind themselves of the key details while also enjoying the in-universe travelogue aspect of the thing, including not a few hidden jokes. For example, the entry for ‘Rum’, the in-universe city of Rome, includes exhortations to visit such ruins as the great kitchens of Coquus Boiardius, who in our modern tongue would be Chef Boyardee!

Given the copious writings that Kurtz has produced, there’s ample scope for keeping track of family trees and all the births, deaths and marriages they entail. The greater part of the book consists of biographies, together with links to the books within which these characters can be found. Again, this is all in-universe and one of the things that’s missing from the book is a collection of over-viewing articles that might give a casual reader some idea of what the series of novels is all about. There isn’t, for example, an entry for ‘Deryni’ in itself, though individual Deryni characters do, of course, have biographies of their own. Neither is there an out-of-universe synoptic articles describing the development of the Deryni books, the world in which they’re set and the literary devices, conceits and themes within them.

On the other hand, there is a chronicle of the years 9 BC to 1130 AD, which at the very least provides an interesting contrast between our world and theirs, tying in events common to both, such as the crucifixion of Christ, with those that separate them, like the expansion of the Byzantine Empire into northern Europe. There are also a small number of maps, some family trees, and a liturgical calendar.

Bottom line, this is a highly encyclopaedic reference book aimed at Deryni fans and for the price, strikingly good value given the range and quantity of information provided. But at the same time and, perhaps because of its highly encyclopaedic style, the book is virtually impenetrable to anyone who isn’t familiar with the books and unlike, say, the ‘Dune Encyclopaedia’, doesn’t quite stand up as an in-universe

Neale Monks

December 2016

(pub: Underwood Books, 2005. 360 page illustrated softcover. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 1-887424-96-2)

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Category: Books, Fantasy


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