The Deverry Sequence - Katherine Kerr
A Time of Exile
A Time of Omens
A Time of War
A Time of Justice
The Red Wyvern
The Black Raven
The Fire Dragon
The Gold Falcon
Before you begin, it's as well to be warned - this is the first volume in a seriously epic series; currently the Deverry chronicles run to 12 books and there's another two on the horizon, so you may prefer to check your calendar (and your bank balance) before getting too involved. It takes a while to get going, but if you've the time and the patience then you'll be well rewarded.
The geography of Deverry and its environs is pretty standard - feudal baronies for the most part, with grasslands populated by nomadic elves in the west, dwarves up in the mountains and sophisticated slave- and spice-traders across the sea to the south. What distinguishes this series from similar books is Kerr's concept of destiny and reincarnation - characters who fail to fulfill their Wyrd in one life are doomed to try again in the next one, though with no knowledge of their past lives or failures. The first few books follow Nevyn, an ancient loremaster who foolishly vowed to stay alive until he'd fixed the destinies of the people whose lives he'd ruined; unfortunately this means tracking them down every time they reincarnate, and so far he's been trying for hundreds of years with only limited success. This allows the entertaining and successful device of showing past-life flashbacks of all the present-day characters in their previous incarnations; this device is also a neat way of describing Deverry's long history.
The device does have its drawbacks, chief among which is the enormous potential for confusion between characters (who also tend to have fairly similar names) - not only do you have to remember the difference between Maddyc, Maryc and Maryn, you also have to keep in mind whose prior incarnations they are and who else's destiny is tied up with theirs... the books often have a handy chart at the back to help you keep track of who's who, but it doesn't always help when trying to remember details from a flashback chapter three books ago.
In fact, the flashback chapters were actually all that kept me reading for the first few books, as they are rather more interesting than the present-day story which takes some time to get off the ground. The present-day characters, too, are really quite annoying - both of these flaws are ironed out through later books, however, as the story picks up and the characters mature.
Kerr's language also takes a bit of getting used to. Her research into ancient Celtic society has obviously been very thorough and she really knows her stuff, but this has led to her using the correct Celtic/Welsh spellings and pronunciations (including - yikes! a pronunciation guide) and plenty of the vocabulary. This goes beyond the normal bounds of authenticity and into affectation - it's not a Berlitz guide, phonetic spelling would have done the job just as well. Once you stop being annoyed at names like Yngwimyr and words like gwerbrethyr, however, it becomes much easier to read. She also makes the mistake many Americans do - attempting a mediaeval dialect without realising that some of it has become British schoolboy slang. Phrases like "I hate his guts" sound quite odd coming from adult warriors.
All of these are fairly minor gripes, however. The style may not be fantastic, but the world is believable enough and the interweaving stories are certainly complex enough to keep you interested for twelve long books and more.