Touch of Power is the ninth book by popular fantasy author Maria V. Snyder and marks the beginning of a new series, known as either the Avry of Kazan or Healer series. Throughout her career, Snyder’s books have struck a chord with young adults and adults alike, and Touch of Power should be no exception. While the prose is relatively simple and accessible to a young adult audience, the characters are endearing and the story is absorbing enough to also keep the interest of older readers.
Touch of Power is narrated in the first person by the protagonist, Avry of Kazan. Avry is a healer, and thus gifted with the ability to magically heal others by assuming their wounds or illnesses. However, healers are accused of causing a deadly plague that has ravaged the population. Therefore, her ability marks Avry as a criminal with a hefty bounty on her head. After years on the run, Avry is finally caught when she heals a dying child and is left too weak to escape afterwards. Sentenced to death, Avry is prepared to met her end. Yet it seems this is not to be. The night before her execution, she is abducted by a band of rogues, led by the stubborn and magically gifted Kerrick. Kerrick has spent years searching for a healer to attend to his plague afflicted friend, Prince Ryne, who he believes can prevent war from breaking out between the territories. However, there are a couple of small problems with this plan. Firstly, Avry has met Ryne before and despises him, and secondly, healing Ryne will kill Avry.
War, plague, and man-eating plants!
One of the most interesting aspects of Touch of Power has to be the setting. While in many ways Avry’s world is a traditional pre-industrial fantasy world, it contains a number of twists that give it a distinctive edge. For instance, in the wake of the deadly plague, many former settlements lie abandoned and desolate, while the Territories as a whole are rife with civil unrest. Warring factions battle for dominance over the remaining settlements and their surviving populations. All in all, this gives the novel a post-apocalyptic feel and provides the perfect setup for a novel featuring a healer. Not only are the people sorely in need of healing, so is civilization as a whole. The magic system is also quite interesting and features a variety of different magical schools that one might be gifted in, each offering very distinct abilities with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the most fascinating aspect of the worldbuilding is the presence of large sentient plants known as Death and Peace lilies. While both varieties of lily are visually indistinguishable, Death lilies are known to attack humans and inject them with a unique and often deadly toxin. However, things are not always as they seem, and Avry, having survived a lily sting, seems to have developed a connection with the plants. They seem to be trying to tell her something. Could it be that the lilies are as misunderstood as the healers? All this combined makes for a unique and compelling world that begs to be explored further and I hope to see Snyder make further use of this potential throughout the rest of the series.
A smart and likeable protagonist
The characters are another strong element of Touch of Power. Avry is a likeable character who is strong willed, sassy, intelligent, and who always tries to do the right thing. Early in the novel, she seems to verge on being a little too perfect and perhaps a little too obvious a role model for young women. However, not every character has to be an antihero and Avry has a distinct personality that prevents her from becoming a Mary-Sue. Furthermore, her numerous qualities and talents make sense within the context of the story; she is smart, independent, and resourceful because she has to be to survive, and she is self-sacrificing as this is an innate aspect of healer nature. Furthermore, as the novel progresses, we discover that Avry is not infallible and, at times, can be just as stubborn and short-sighted as her love interest, Kerrick. The romance aspects of the novel are also quite well done and the love/hate relationship between Kerrick and Avry has spark. The supporting characters, such as the other members of the rogue band, are also well-written and one cannot help growing attached to them. On a similar note, the primary antagonist is satisfyingly warped and devious.
An easy, enjoyable, relatively straightforward read
Touch of Power is, in essence, a pleasure read. Easy, enjoyable, but not particularly challenging. The prose is relatively simple, and although this is understandable given the fact that the book is aimed primarily at young adults, at times I still thought some slightly more complex writing couldn’t hurt. While the story is never tedious, the pacing is slower at the start of the book while the scene is set and the characters are developed. This is only really noticeable when compared to the last third of the book which had a much faster tempo and had me madly turning pages. This is merely the beginning of Avry’s story, and the fact that the ending leaves just as many questions as it answers means that those who lack patience may have trouble waiting a year for the next book. If you are such a reader, perhaps consider waiting until closer to the sequel’s release to pick up this book.
Why should you read this book?
If you are looking for a quality young adult fantasy novel that has more substance than just another teen soap opera, Touch of Power is definitely worth a look. Fans of Snyder’s earlier novels, as well as other similar works such as Kristen Cashore’s Fire and Graceling, should also find this one to their liking. It may also suit anyone looking for an easy read that isn’t just mere fluff.