The Silver Mage: Book Four of the Silver Wyrm
by Katharine Kerr
Cover Artist: Jody A. Lee
Review by Sam Lubell
DAW Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756405878
Date: 03 November 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
When a fantasy series has been going on for nearly a quarter of a century (the first book in the Deverry saga was published in 1986) and reaches 15 books, it needs a spectacular ending. The Silver Mage the last book in the long-running Deverry series) is an above average entry in the series (although still not up to the standard of the first four), but falls short of the rousing conclusion an epic like this demands. While many plot threads in Kerr's Celtic knot are resolved, some – including the threat of the Horsekin – are left dangling. Still, this is a satisfying volume that wraps up an unusually complicated and slow-moving series.
Katharine Kerr's Deverry series is based on the idea of wryd (destiny). Characters' souls reincarnate and their fate in one life is determined by their actions in the previous life. Most characters do not know this except for a few with magic, called dweomer, who though meditation are able to access pieces of their old lives. Kerr writes these novels jumping back and forth in time to show incidents from characters' past lives. Just to add to the confusion, some characters, notably Nevyn and the elves, live extended lives, so they may interact with the same soul under different names and struggle to remember that this is a different person.
The magic in these books, called dweomer, is usually low-key, the seeing of spirits and omens of the future, limited shape changing, and illusions. The early books are noteworthy for having a physically strong female protagonist, with a convincing explanation for how such a character could fit into a quasi-medieval society. But such are far more common in fantasy now (although books now rarely even try to justify this in terms of the setting) and recent books in this series have lacked a warrior-woman-type character.
In The Silver Mage, most of the novel takes place in the 1160s, about 100 years after the events of the original four books, but there is a past life sequence that goes back to 71 C.E., meaning the book has the oldest and newest material. The books have a heavy Celtic influence although they largely take place in an invented world (with the occasional bridge to ours).
The Silver Mage is about the efforts to recover a book that has the secrets to reversing the transformation of Rori, the half-elf who once was the silver dagger (mercenary soldier) named Rhodry, into a dragon. Much of the book is focused on the redemption of Laz, a magic user who had been a villain in previous incarnations and sufficiently cruel in this life that the good characters are uncertain how much they can trust him. He wants to learn more about his past lives while the other magic users fear this information may cause him to revert to his old ways. Despite this distrust, he agrees to join a warband as a scribe so he can hunt for the book. Another plot line explains what happened to Kov, a dwarf who was captured by the Dwrgi (the otter people) as he tries to escape only to wind up leading the Dwrgi in an underground assault on the Horsekin. Meanwhile Neb (the current incarnation of Nevyn) discovers the existence of germs that cause illness and infections, which he uses to heal Rori the dragon. Ultimately, all characters converge on Haen Marn, a city that can travel in space and between universes, to discover its secrets and to cure Rori, if he decides to give up being a dragon.
As frequently the case in this series, the past life sequence is the best part of the book. The original incarnations of Rhodry (then called Rhodorix) and Cullyn (then Gerontos) and Nevyn (Galerinos) turn out to have traveled from a Dark Ages to this alternate world where magic is much more powerful (as Galerinos finds to his surprise). There they meet the original incarnation of Jill (then Hwilli) who becomes the first human to learn the dweomer, the elves' magic, and helps with the ideas for Haen Marn. Rhodorix fights some of the early battles against the Horsekin and teaches the elves about horses.
The author Katherine Kerr, has said in the past that everything would ultimately tie together with the last past life segment in the last book tying into the first present-life segment in the first book. This did not take place (perhaps to the book's betterment, as the origin of Haen Marn fits better here.) While many plot lines are settled in the book, a few major ones, including the fate of Evandar, a guardian spirit, and his changelings, are dealt with rather quickly at the very end, after being almost completely ignored for the last couple of volumes. More to the point, the threat of the Horsekin is not resolved although a major victory against them is won.
Obviously, the last book of 15 is no place for a new reader to start. The series is written in groups of four (mostly as there is one three book sequence) so the reader can reasonably stop at the end of any sequence. Personally, I think the original four are the best in the series (making sure to get the author's preferred editions of Daggerspell and Darkspell as she edited these later in her career). However, patient readers, who do not have to see battle scenes or spectacular acts of magic will find much to enjoy in the whole series.