________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009

cover Healer’s Touch.

Anne Gray.
Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 2008.
275 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-894549-77-6.

Subject Headings:
Quests (Expectations)-Juvenile fiction.
Healers-Juvenile literature.
Fantasy fiction.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Karen Rankin.

** /4


Dovella didn’t think that she would ever be able to access the minds of others, nor did she want to, but she was equally loathe to have anyone in her mind, so she determined to work hard at building her shield. “I would like to learn,” she said.

By the time their meal was ready, Dovella was surprised to find that she was ravenous. It seemed that somehow the food tasted richer than that she was used to. When she said as much to [her teacher] Vrillian, he smiled. “In part it is because we are in the fresh air, but mostly, I think, it is because you are eating with attention.”

After they had eaten, Vrillian put out their fire and restored the sod he had displaced to make the firepit, while Dovella returned to the stream to rinse the pot. When they’d tidied everything, Vrillian also put out the small fire in front of the shrine, then gathered his pouches. They turned their steps toward the village.

“Once the Elder Master is here, we’ll set up a plan for exchanging knowledge. From what young Jael tells me, we shagines [a type of sorcerer] also have much to learn.” Vrillian seemed to have no doubt that the Elder Master would be rescued, and his certainty reassured Dovella.

As they neared the village, Vrillian pointed out an herb with blue flowers. He stopped and made a sign with his hands before pinching off a few leaves. It was similar to the kind of sign she had been taught to make when she prepared her healing herbs. When she’d asked why, Safir [her father] had replied that it was tradition and that, though they no longer knew the reason, the healing herbs were too important to risk making changes in the way they were gathered.

Wondering if Vrillian would give the same answer, she asked shyly, “May I ask why you made that sign? It’s only that we do too, but I’ve never known why, except that it’s our tradition.”

“It is, in part, to give thanks for the gift, but it is also a way to focus the mind.” He placed the herbs in his pouch and turned to her. “The herbs are important, of course, but true healing comes from your link with the energy that surrounds you. You have to create a connection between yourself and the energy.”

Dovella grimaced. She was uneasy with the idea of linking herself to something beyond her own skill. “Are you talking about … magic?”

Vrillian laughed, his eyes merry. “It’s just a word, Dovella. Call it something else if that will make you more comfortable. It is a natural use of power. Call it focusing the mind, call it a gift.”

Like her healing power, she thought. She didn’t like to call that magic. And if it was magic, did that mean it was evil? Was that why Safir had cautioned her to keep quiet about how she healed? Despite everything she had learned in recent days, Dovella found it hard to dismiss this worry from her mind.

Teenaged Dovella is “mechanically inclined” as well as possessing special healing powers. She wants to become a member of her Village Healers’ Guild. Healer’s Touch begins with Dovella’s return to the Village having just fixed “the machine” and thereby restoring water and electricity to the Village. However, Dovella has missed going through the Rites, needed to become a member of the Guild. And now, many New Schoolers in the Village are agitating for change and there is news that Outlanders’ farms are being destroyed. Village Security Master Pandil decides that Dovella must immediately undergo more training as a mind healer so that she is ready to help her Villagers deal with looming attacks by the New Schoolers. So, Dovella again leaves her loving parents to be trained by an Elder Master who is currently studying with a shagine in a benevolent village of the Plains People. Soon enough, both the Elder Master and the shagine end up training Dovella. Jael – a young man who Dovella knows and likes from her own Village – has also been sent to the Plains village in order to train with the shagine. In the meantime (and unbeknownst to Dovella), Maleem – a young Plains woman in another village – tries to be of as much help as possible to her tribe’s leader, Fvlad. Fvlad is a powerful sorcerer who Maleem believes is using the New Schoolers in order to make gains in the Village for the ‘deserving’ Plains People. When Dovella is betrayed by a girl jealous of Jael’s affections, she ends up in Maleem and Fvlad’s village. Maleem becomes one of Dovella’s jailers. As Dovella’s friends and family begin to understand that Fvlad is behind all of the attacks on the Village and Outlanders, life becomes difficult for the evil sorcerer. Hoping to give him more strength, Maleem decides to make a sacrifice of Dovella. Freed from her prison for the sacrifice, Dovella manages to overpower Maleem and escape. Eventually she meets up with Jael and they return in time to thwart an attack on the Village. Maleem is then confronted by Fvlad, who is outraged that she let Dovella escape. As Fvlad rants at Maleem, she comes to the realization that he has always had only his own, greedy interests at heart. Bereft and hoping to stop him from hurting anyone else, Maleem unintentionally kills Fvlad. The story ends with Dovella’s being invited to join the Village Healers’ Guild.

     Healer’s Touch is a sequel to Anne Gray’s fantasy, Rites of the Healer. The 275-page Healer's Touch has an omniscient narrator recounting the story through the perspective of several characters: Dovella, Maleem, Security Master Pandil, and Jael. The perspective often switches mid-chapter and the different narratives describe what is happening during the same time period. There is a dizzying cast of characters, including Villagers, New Schoolers, Hills People, Plains People, Outlanders, Forresters, and Giants.

     Many parallels can be made between the world described in Healer’s Touch and ours. For instance, Gray’s history for this world tells of Giants driven from their land and way of life by new-comers, as happened to many of our indigenous populations. Various “races” in Healer’s Touch have religious beliefs – often not that dissimilar – that some aggressive leaders attempt to use in order to control people and to mask purely economic goals. These parallels could lead to an interesting discussion of current politics and strife in, for example, North America, the Middle East, or Africa.

     The plot of Healer’s Touch is quite involved. Amongst other things, there are a number of battles, betrayals, incursions, and undeveloped romances. Despite all the scrapes and situations in which the various narrators find themselves, this reader found the novel slow-going for a number of reasons: with few exceptions, the characters all seem to ‘sound’ the same; too much information is told, rather than shown; despite what happens in the action, the narrator’s sentence length and delivery rarely vary; the narration is unnecessarily repetitive, as shown in the fifth and sixth paragraphs of the above excerpt. More attention to the elements of writing style would have made for a more compelling read.

     Only strong and patient readers will be able to get through this story.

Recommended with reservations.

Karen Rankin is a Toronto teacher and writer.

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