TITLE: Touch of Power (Healer, #1)
AUTHOR: Maria V. Snyder
FORMAT: eBook, 396 Pages
Avry of Kazan is the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms — the only one left with the power to heal the injured and the ill with the touch of her hands. It’s an incredible gift, but one with a price. Avry can heal others, but only by drawing their injuries and ailments into herself. Her body regenerates at ten times the normal rate, thus offsetting this side effect of her abilities, but not even her body can recover from everything, because even magic has its limits. This was a lesson learned the hard way when a devastating plague swept through the continent… a plague that healers couldn’t heal, because they possessed no immunity to it. Healers were subsequently blamed for the plague itself, and now Avry is hunted for her powers rather than revered and protected because of them. To make matters worse, the only person left who seems willing to safeguard her is the engimatic Kerrick, and he wants her to use those powers to save someone she would rather allow to die.
Hmm, I’m honestly kind of torn on this one. On the one hand, there are a lot of unique ideas and concepts put into play in this book that I appreciated as a veteran fantasy reader; on the other, however, there were also a lot of minor irritations that all combined into one big problem for me. I don’t usually nitpick, but I can’t help but complain when certain things are so distracting during the process of reading a book that it detracts from the overall experience. So, I guess I’ll settle on this one being almost great, but not quite. Read on and I’ll tell you exactly why!
So, Avry is a pretty strong person, and I like strong heroines very much. In fact, if there isn’t a strong heroine then there’s a very good chance I’ll end up disliking the entire book. You could never accuse Avry of being weak-willed, because she definitely isn’t. She’s very confident in her actions, determined to fight her own battles and make her own decisions, and this is admirable. When you consider how easily she could become the pawn of someone more powerful, and when you think about how her particular abilities put her at jeopardy, her determination to follow her own path becomes even more admirable. I liked that Avry was sincere in her dealings with others. I liked that she was willing to risk her own life to save someone else, and I liked that she wasn’t Mary Sue-ish about it. Avry isn’t a saint — she doesn’t believe her healing abilities should be used on anyone and everyone. From the beginning, she is adamant that she has at least this one choice in her life: who she heals, and who she doesn’t.
I was glad about Avry being such a proactive lead, and I liked that she had no issues whatsoever with taking charge. I did wish she was less perfect though. If Avry had fumbled a little more throughout the story, I think she might have come across as that much more believable to me. Instead, she hardly ever seemed to do the wrong thing. She also moves on from certain traumatic events with surprising speed, all things considered, and that bothered me. I loved her with Kerrick — they’re a fantastic pairing — but would have liked Kerrick to shine through a bit more. He was a truly interesting character, at least as interesting as Avry, but she ends up taking all the glory for herself and that makes the playing field between them a lot less level than it could be. Yes, I get that she’s the main character, but Kerrick deserved a little more of the spotlight than he received, in my opinion. I also had an issue with Avry’s animosity towards the prince that Kerrick wants her to heal, because it seemed shallow and under-developed as a conflict. Her reasons for not wanting to heal him really didn’t impress me.
There is definitely a compelling plot going on here, and I found the magic system to be pretty refreshing. I liked that healers have to pay a price in order to use their power — in this case, taking the illness or ailment into themselves even as they draw it out of the other person. I liked that there were many different kinds of magic users in the world, with many different kinds of abilities, even though I did find myself wondering why there weren’t more limits imposed on others’ abilities. I mean, Avry can only do so much healing; it’s possible for her to die in the process of healing someone, if the case is severe. But what limits other mages (i.e. the ones who control air) from being all-powerful? This was my main issue with the villain of the story, whose powers are based on life, and who can therefore do things like summon living things to aid him and etc. Where is the limit to that? Err, and then there were the massive Lily plants dotting the landscape… plants that were either oriented with Death or Life, and which never sat very well with me because the entire concept just seemed completely outlandish, even in a bona fide high fantasy setting like this one.
Speaking of being a high fantasy setting, my biggest problem with Touch of Power was the way people talked and certain terms used throughout. It seemed like your standard fantasy setting, medieval-based, with villages and castles and feudal systems in place, but then there would be appearances of words such as President, syringe, etc that were total anachronisms. Sometimes a character would use a phrase that threw me off because it was out of place with what the dialect and language should have been in this kind of setting. I realize that this is a nitpicky thing to complain about, but I really felt like it took away from my experience and made it hard for me to immerse myself in the world. The writing isn’t what I’d describe as lyrical or beautiful; it’s very straightforward, nothing complex about it whatsoever, and that would’ve been fine by me if not for these constant oddities in speech and language. I swear, every single time Avry referred to her companions as ‘the guys’ I just wanted to scream…!
There were also times when it felt really rushed — blip blip blip on to the next thing, bye! And I didn’t like that either, because pretty much the entire story takes place out on the road, while Avry and company are fleeing from pursuers and whatnot, and it warped my perception of how much time had taken place. In actuality, they were on the road for months, but that never managed to sink in because the story just rips forward at this crazy pace sometimes. You don’t get the sense of how arduous their journey was because it seems like they got from Point A to Point B within a few weeks at most. And in a story like this, where the journey itself is central to the plot, I think that needed to be emphasized more.
After much deliberation, I’m rating this one with an in-between score. It wasn’t terrible, but too many issues held it back from being truly great. If you regularly read fantasy, you’ll like the many unique aspects of Avry’s world and will especially be intrigued by the magic system. That alone may be enough to convince you to pick it up regardless of how irritating the writing can be. If you’re like me and prefer at least some prose in your books, you will be sorely disappointed, since Touch of Power isn’t possessed of very sophisticated writing structure. It does, however, have a strong female lead, a sense of humor, and a plot that is Certified Love Triangle free. Ugh, do you see what I mean?? It’s good… but it’s not. It’s bad… but it’s not. I wouldn’t blame you for taking the risk anyway. I don’t regret reading it, but I’m not sure I’ll pick up the sequel.
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