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The Black Raven - Book Two of The Dragon Mage

by Katharine Kerr

(HarperCollins Voyager, £16.99, 323 pages, hardback; published 19 July 1999. Paperback, £6.99, 391 pages, published 7 February 2000.)

Katherine Kerr's Deverry Cycle of fantasies have generally been of a consistently high quality. Common to them all has been an original storytelling technique involving parallel plotlines set generations apart, but with ostensibly the same characters in different reincarnations. Of course, this has the potential for an ever-expanding series, but it is a problem Kerr has, by and large, handled well until now. With the latest addition to the Deverry series, The Black Raven, Kerr may have started to lose the plot, or at least fall victim to that fatal disease of fantasy writers, creeping Jordanitis.

The Black Raven follows on from The Red Wyvern, and to a more marked extent than any other book in the series, is very much a small part of a larger storyline. It's fiction on the installment plan, which is fine if the installments have a life of their own and at least try to give some sense of completion. The Black Raven doesn't do that, but simply stops, leaving everything suspended in limbo until the next volume comes to pick up the pieces.

With two major storylines to carry, there simply isn't enough room in three hundred pages to progress either plot more than a meagre step or two, which makes for frustrating reading. If you're a fan of Kerr, that won't matter much, but any new reader will have to start elsewhere (preferably right back in Daggerspell, the first Deverry story) to have any hope of understanding what is going on. That's a disappointment from someone of Kerr's abilities, as I'd rated her as a step or two up the fantasy evolutionary ladder from mere providers of fantasy soap opera.

Review by John D Owen.

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