After a long wait since The Harrowing of Gwynedd (1988), here's book number two in Kurtz's latest medieval, Celtic-flavored fantasy trilogy--an unremitting power struggle involving kings, nobles, the Church, and magic-powered Deryni. Upon the death of his consumptive brother Alroy, 16-year-old Javan comes to the throne of Gwynedd determined to win his independence from the ruling Regents' Council that has repressed the people, enslaved or anathematized the Deryni, and contributed to Alroy's death (they drugged him to make him more tractable). The Regents further intend to maintain their evil rule by controlling Javan, his younger brother Rhys Michael, or their heirs. Among Javan's utterly loyal followers are, secretly, some Deryni who help Javan awaken the Deryni-like magic powers that are the heritage of his Haldane forebears. But his enemies--the most dangerous of whom are Paulin (sort of a chief inquisitor, and head of the most brutal anti-Deryni sect), other bishops, and powerful anti-Deryni nobles--deploy some biddable Deryni of their own (the bad guys hold their families hostage) whose presence serves to counter Javan's own magical abilities; a horrid, magic-destroying drug is readily available, so Javan and his Deryni allies dare not reveal themselves. A non-Haldane claimant to the throne provides an additional complication. Finally, the disbelieving and easily swayed Rhys Michael is kidnapped by Paulin-instructed fake Deryni and tempted into a premature marriage, while Paulin's multiple treacheries threaten to overwhelm Javan. A grim, brutal installment, but well up to Kurtz's usual standard: layer upon layer of patient detail, life-sized characters, and controlled, intricate plotting.