The Spirit Stone: The Silver Wyrm, Book Two
by Katharine Kerr
Cover Artist: Jody A. Lee
Review by Sam Lubell
DAW Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756404338
Date: 01 June 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Katharine Kerr's Deverry fantasy series is a complex tapestry of reincarnations and destinies. In this world souls are reborn into new bodies, with different names, but carry with them unresolved bits of fate, called wyrd, from their last life. The Spirit Stone is 13th of the series, or, since the series is divided into four "acts," the middle of the fourth sub-series. Things are even more complicated because Kerr jumps around in time, nearly half of this book takes place 176 years before the novel's present and has only a tenuous relationship with the main story but greatly illuminates the past of a villain from an earlier book.
The past life section of this book is easily the best part. Nevyn the deweomermaster, master of magic, has been cursed to live until he can enable some later incarnation of his lost love to learn the dewomer. After giving the king a magic jewel, he takes as his reward the latest incarnation of old enemy, now the arrogant captain of the king's warband, to be his servant, with the aim of teaching him compassion. As the two have adventurers, they encounter the new incarnation of Nevyn's Brangwen, now nursemaid to a half-elf child, Ebany, who will grow up to become Salamander, a deweomermaster who has a major role in the saga. But Nevyn reluctantly decides this incarnation should not be taught magic since her facial deformity has left her with an inner anger. Kerr neatly balances this with a similar realization by Nevyn's old apprentice that his son Loddlaen should not be taught more of the dewomer. But Loddlaen becomes obsessed with a crystal pyramid which leads to more tragedy. This pyramid becomes the main link between this past life section and the main part of the book.
In the present, the savage Horsekin have built a fortress that threatens both the borders of Deverry and the Westlands where the elves live. In the gritty detail which separates this fantasy from most other works, Kerr describes how an army of men, elves, and dwarfs lay siege to the fortress. Much of this section is devoted to the former priestess Sidro and her relationship with Laz Moj, a magic user who can take the form of a raven. Under his influence she realizes that her goddess is dead and begins studying magic again, including using his white crystal pyramid which is linked to a black pyramid in her old temple. For too long in the book the relationship of this splinter group to the Horsekin in the fort is unclear and the pyramids are never explained.
I badly wanted to like this book more than I did. The original four Deverry books are among my favorite fantasy novels and while I found many of the later books to be too slowly paced with the mystery of the guardians taking too long to unravel, I thought the most recent book, The Gold Falcon, was much better and a good way to essentially restart the series. In that book Nevyn and his lost love have both been reborn and Kerr does a wonderful job showing how the two rediscover the dewomer and slowly get glimpses of their past lives and past connection. But in The Spirit Stone both Neb and Branna are off-stage for most of the novel. And, instead, Kerr does perhaps too good a job humanizing the enemy. It's one thing to be fighting the dark dewomer or a false goddess. But in this book, it is less clear why the two sides are fighting and what is at stake other than land both sides want to keep.
The problem with this book goes deeper than just the usual middle book of a trilogy syndrome. Many of the elements that made this series interesting, the wildfolk, the silver dagger mercenaries who try to regain their honor by selling their swords, and the spirit world are largely missing here. So are strong characters as much of the book focuses on Sidro who seems very passive. Even Salamander seems a shadow of his chattering elf self although this is explained as a lingering sickness. Unfortunately, the result is a little disappointing, considering how The Gold Falcon seemed to revitalize and renew this saga.
Fans of Deverry will enjoy this return visit, although I suspect even they will like the past life section better than rest of the book. For other readers, The Spirit Stone clearly is not the place to start. I strongly recommend beginning with the first book, Daggerspell as the first four are, in my opinion, the best in the series. Be sure to get the revised editions of the Daggerspell and, especially, Darkspell, as the writer made changes from the first edition of both. An alternative to starting with book one would be to read The Gold Falcon which seems to have been written in part to serve as a jumping on point for new readers. I recommend the series to readers who like gritty, detail-oriented fantasy where the magic is low-key. The use of reincarnation and wyrd set this series apart from most other fantasy series. The series, although not The Spirit Stone individually, also is notable for its strong female characters, even though this is less unusual now than back in 1986 when it began. The next book is supposed to be the last in the whole series. I hope Kerr manages to tie together all the threads of her tapestry in a volume as good as The Gold Falcon or even, dare I dream, the first four books.