Daggerspell (Deverry Series, Book One) - Katharine Kerr Katherine Kerr's Deverry cycle, of which Daggerspell is the first volume, was the first "adult" (read:not YA) fantasy series I ever read (and have re-read), and it set a very high standard for any other series to follow. It has many of the elements fantasy fans are looking for: magic, elves, medieval warfare, but with added complications and a real-world grit rarely captured in the realms of sword and sorcery.

First of all, Kerr has done some major research and complex structuring to create a world that is completely believable. The language of the world's inhabitants, at least the humans, is based in ancient Celtic, and the language is permeated with terms that are not immediately recognizable but are still understandable and very conducive to a complete immersion in the world. She doesn't rely on a lot of weighty exposition to bring this world to life, but relies on context and, when needed, a handy glossary of terms and pronunciation.

One of the most original aspects of this book, and by extension the series, is the concept of reincarnation. Characters from the past reappear in a new forms, carrying the baggage of former conflict down through the ages, which then manifests years or even generations later. At first, this can be overwhelming, but a connecting character and recurring thematic elements help the reader keep track as the story twists and turns its way through several incarnations of primary characters.

Daggerspell centers around Jillyan, the child of a mercenary and a serving lass. When Jill's mother dies, she goes on the road with her brave but seriously conflicted father. Jill bears the burden of heritage in more ways than one; besides being the daughter of a mercenary, a class of people not trusted in Deverry, she is also the inheritor of strange magical abilities. Jill's troubles are in fact the result of a conflict hundreds of years in the past, a conflict that was not of her making. It is this trouble from the past that brings the ancient traveling healer Nevyn into her life, and twists her simple existence into a Celtic knot of intrigue and danger. Politics and warfare play their fair share in the choices Jill is forced to make, and introduce new enemies and allies she never imagined to exist.

There are some repetitions and tropes that perhaps drag the story a little, but they are vastly outweighed by the complexity of the story and the expertly drawn characters.

5-star read, and one of my all-time favorites.