I read the book in the mid-90's and it seemed physically older (10 years at least), though that could have been poor care as well. Paperback with no recall of the cover, but thick-ish in the range of ~500 pages.

Each section (possibly single chapter, or a few chapters) included the place and date on the opening page. In the book, either as an included review or the author's notes, the disjointed timeline is claimed to be in the style of, or influenced by, Celtic traditional story telling. I recall that there was at least one section in the pre-1000 AD range (800s or 900s) and one section was in the 1400s. The time span could be greater than that, but it's at least that wide.

The main character, a male, is a mage, though I don't recall him doing big, or fantastic, magic, just simple things like starting a fire with wet, un-burnable, wood, or causing healing to happen extra fast, but not instantly. The book follows him as he reappears in each time frame - though at first it's not obvious that it is the same guy because his life situation seems different each time. Turns out he is reborn (reincarnated) in each time and has to relearn most things, as opposed to being born knowing how to be a mage, though he seems to have a very limited amount of past-life memory.

The plot, when straightened out in time, is that he has to find some woman (also repeatedly reborn) that he's connected to in some soul-mate type manner (without romance necessarily), and, I think, convince her to also become a mage. With each rebirth his location and hers changes, and part of his problem is just living long enough to find her. I believe that it's a geas he has, and I think, succeeding in getting her to study magic will allow him to stop being reborn, or at least live his life without having to search for her.

I do recall that in at least one section he finds her when she's on her death-bed, thus wasting that lifetime. I don't recall him ever having a high-station in life, though sometimes a very low station. Her, on the other hand, I think had one or two occasions where she was either born high, or married high.

  • 1
    Could this be the Deverry series by Katherine Kerr? Daggerspell Darkspell The Bristling Wood The Dragon Revenant A Time of Exile A Time of Omens Days of Blood and Fire Days of Air and Darkness The Red Wyvern The Black Raven The Fire Dragon The Gold Falcon The Spirit Stone The Shadow Isle The Silver Mage
    – sueelleker
    Apr 22, 2018 at 10:11
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    Don't think it is the Deverry series, iirc the main male character in that saga doesn't die, he is cursed to live and to try to heal problems caused by his mistakes. Those mistakes lead to a couple/3 other characters reincarnating. The rest of the OP is fairly close fit though
    – Alith
    Apr 22, 2018 at 12:20
  • Someone should stick the Deverry books down as an answer though. There is so much overlap, with enough non-matching elements that I'm leaning towards the op mixing up Deverry with something else they read around the same time. Possibly Kim Stanley Robinson's Thousand Years of Rice and Salt.
    – Jontia
    Apr 22, 2018 at 12:49
  • @sueelleker A short perusal of descriptions of, and samples from, the first few books in the series (the rest were after the time I read this book) do seem promising, and probably a good read nonetheless. If the Wikipedia page for the Deverry Cycle is correct about six sapient species in all the books, then it's out. Otherwise, even the Amazon description of Daggerspell sounds promising. I only read one book, and the full history of Deverry might not be in book one.
    – Chindraba
    Apr 22, 2018 at 15:14
  • @Jontia Kim Stanley Robinson's Thousand Years of Rice and Salt (written in 2002), is one I haven't read, though with the intervening years, and books, a minor mix up in story elements is very possible.
    – Chindraba
    Apr 22, 2018 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


While from the Comments on the OP, this is probably not the right answer I've decided to write it up, so it is there and the points of confluence made clear.

Daggerspell is first book in the Deverry Series, first published in 1986. In forewords and afterword in various editions the whole tale is described as a Celtic Knot of stories interleaved together. The books changes time period frequently, but irregularly (match). The year is stated at the start of each section, the Deverry calendar is not the same a C.E. it's out by around 75 years and the dates in the first book range between 640 and 1060 (fails to match).

The main character Nevyn is a mage, but the magic system in the books is not generally showy. The most common uses are lighting fires and talking over distances to other (match). There isn't any healing magic, but Nevyn does make his living as a herbman, and at later points in the timeline is exceptionally skilled. (Iffy match).

The book follows Nevyn, as he meets re-incarnations of everyone he knew from his "first" life. He made an error and swore an oath to set things right which led to his immortality. He looks old, old enough to be a grandfather, but physically acts much younger in terms of stamina and vitality. Each re-incarnated person he meets will tend to recognise him in some way and trust or fear him based on their interactions in their past lives, but the generally remember little or nothing else. (Match, exluding main character).

The main plot is he needs to lead his soulmate, called Bragwen in her "first life" and Gilyan or Jill in the latest (1060s) one to the Dweomer, the local magic system, which he failed to do so in his "first" life, where his actions ultimately led to her death. This is the wrong he's been granted immortal life to correct. While there is romance in the first instance, this romantic overtone fades out as Nevyn ages leaving only the core purpose of recruiting her to the magic system. (Match).

Nevyn has no problem with living long enough to complete the mission, being immortal, (fails to match) but in several lifetimes there are problems with "Bragwen" surviving or being distracted by life before he can convince her to take up her birthright. Finding her each life is a problem though. (Match)

Nevyn will only be able to die and join to normal cycle of life and re-birth after completing his mission which was sworn before the gods and the eternal life is granted by the "Lords or Wyrd" which is life fate or destiny. (match).

Finds her at one point on her death bed (Not a match). Pretty sure this never happens although the opening of book one has "Bragwen", Jill in this life, as a child sitting at her mother's death bed.

He's not high station, she occasionally is. (Iffy match). After swearing his vow Nevyn is common as muck. He's a herbman who specifically treats the poor as much as possible. He was however born as the 4th son of the King. Throughout her various reincarnations Bragwen moves up and down the pecking order. Bragwen herself is "noble born" as it's called in the book. Gilyan is the bastard born daughter of a mercenary fighter a "Silver Dagger", who are consider very low class. In the other lives she ranges pretty much all over the scale including marrying a Bard (v. high placed servant) in the life immediately after the first.

From the comments in the OP. The Deverry series eventually over its 18(?) book span features six distinct fantasy races (fails to match), but the opening novel contains only humans and elves and this delightful quote.

Children who asked about their ears were told this savage tribe cropped their children's ears at birth. Those who asked about their cat slit eyes were told to hold their tounges or thier ears might get cropped the same way.

  • Ok, that's a bit more epic than I expected. But hopefully it hits all the matching points and can be left here so no-one else goes down this path.
    – Jontia
    Apr 22, 2018 at 18:00
  • With the dismissal of the other races, including elves as "funny looking humans" this is sounding real close. I just might have to read this one to see.
    – Chindraba
    Apr 22, 2018 at 19:37
  • 1
    This is why I love ILL almost as much as books. Got it, started reading it, and this is it.
    – Chindraba
    May 4, 2018 at 4:04

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