Friday, January 13, 2012

TOUCH OF POWER


Review of TOUCH OF POWER by MARIA V. SNYDER
(review based on an advance reading copy)

I’ve read one other series by Snyder (the POISON STUDY trilogy) and I had to laugh after starting TOUCH OF POWER, because the opening is so similar. A young woman, wrongfully despised for crimes she didn’t commit, awaits her execution only to be offered a chance to live by a handsome stranger who could easily be a friend or an enemy. Of course, the specific details make these completely different books. In POISON STUDY, a woman accused of murder is offered a position as poison taster.  In TOUCH OF POWER, the woman is a magical healer. When fear and prejudice toss her in a cell, she finds herself rescued by men who need her gift.

The premise of TOUCH OF POWER is really fantastic and encourages debating. While there are a few different kinds of magicians in this world, our story focuses on healers. Healers can, well, heal people. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. They have a faster curative rate than normal humans and a magical ability to absorb wounds and illnesses from a patient into themselves. This means that they can “take” someone’s pneumonia or stab wound etc. and then heal much faster than the patient would. However, they feel the wound or illness as would anyone else, so this gift isn’t without sacrifice. Here’s where the bigger problems enter: years back a plague spread that healers couldn’t stop. They quickly discovered that, were they to absorb this particular disease, they wouldn’t recover. There are about one hundred healers in the world and this plague spread all over, so the Guild decided it simply wasn’t worth the sacrifice and forbid healers to cure anyone with the plague. Unfortunately, that decree was misinterpreted and people believed healers spread the plague themselves and then refused to treat it. Thanks to that massive miscommunication, all healers must erase their old identities and live in hiding, which means absolutely no magical healing. Discovery means death.

Now on to our protagonist Avry’s individual problems. She has the intellect and survival skills to be a great fugitive if only compassion didn’t lead her to heal someone on the brink of death, usually a child, every time she finds a safe hideout. The men who rescue/kidnap her from prison want her to heal a prince with the plague. Not only does Avry know she will die if she heals someone with the plague, but this particular prince stands for everything about the world that she hates. While she’s prepared to give up her life for some people, not for him.

I noticed more similarities between TOUCH OF POWER and POISON STUDY than just the beginning. In fact, a lot of parallels can be drawn between the two stories. Many characters are mirrors of each other. Avry from TOUCH OF POWER doesn’t seem that different than Yelena from POISON STUDY. Kerrick reminded me of Valek. And so forth. However, it should be said that if Snyder’s plot occasionally seems formulaic, it’s a formula that works. I was totally hooked from start to finish and even where I noticed these similarities, it didn’t take me out of the story. There’s plenty to differentiate the two books.

One writing habit that did distract me, though, is the overuse of present participle clauses. (I noticed this in POISON STUDY as well.) Grammar nerds know what I’m talking about. If you’re not a grammar nerd, then never mind; it’s an amazing book. If you are a grammar nerd, be warned that there is a present participle clause (or two or three) on almost every page and perhaps as many as half of them are grammatically incorrect.

My only other complaint is also something I noticed in both books: the absence of women in the story. While the protagonist is a woman, she’s surrounded by men: friends, enemies, love interests, but all men. Most of the women who pop up play very, very minor roles, and those that play larger ones are evil.

As I approached the ending, I inwardly cringed. It appeared that the author intended to leave a bunch of a plot threads dangling for the next book to pick up. I should have had more faith. The ending was extremely satisfying. It wrapped up everything I wanted some closure on in this book, but, since this is the first in a trilogy, left the bigger plot threads to be resolved over the rest of the series.

After nitpicking a little, I have to repeat that TOUCH OF POWER riveted my attention. I didn’t want to put it down and whenever I had a few spare minutes, I would snatch it up to read a couple more pages. I found Avry easy to empathize with, especially since she so frequently found herself in tricky emotional, intellectual, or political situations that made me ask, “What would I do?” It’s the first in a new trilogy, so I can’t wait for the next one!

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