The Healer's Apprentice
by Melanie Dickerson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
The Healer's Apprentice / 978-0-310-72143-7
I really wanted to like this book, but there's just so many things wrong with it that I can't - I found this book to be completely lacking in every literary category I can imagine.
My first complaint with this book is that the entire novel is quite literally centered around the trope Poor Communication Kills**.
** (From TV Tropes wiki: "Poor Communication Kills is when a misunderstanding is entirely implausible and against the characters' previously exhibited communication skills, personality, and relationships, and any normal person could clear up the misunderstanding in less than 30 seconds and solve the plot.")
PCK plots are frustrating enough in retrospect, but the PCK plot here is so blatantly obvious that I guarantee the reader will have the entire plot worked out in advance LONG before the halfway mark, leaving an unsatisfying slog to the end as the characters laboriously work out what the reader has already figured out ages ago. The book is styled as a "Sleeping Beauty" reboot (which is why I picked it up), but the connection is extremely tentative and superficial at best, and this is the first fairy tale retelling I've ever read that I didn't like.
I really cannot emphasize enough that the entire plot of this novel, from the first page to the last, revolves around the resolution of the "mystery" of Lord Hamlin's fiancé - and savvy readers will almost instantly be able to hazard an accurate guess on that score. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the unraveling of the "mystery" were a story well told, but the action slogs along as the characters "wonder" incessantly about the identity (which the reader has already guessed) and as they compare birthdays back and forth. To make things worse, the characters who obviously are "in the know" are maddeningly silent in the face of serious, major, unarguable reasons to share their knowledge with the principal players. The flimsy justification for this unpardonable and annoying silence - even in the face of obstacles that threaten to result in the *death* of the people these folks are supposedly "protecting" with their silence - is that they *swore an oath of silence*. Talk about "letter of the law" over the spirit, and it's a flimsy way to try to build suspense and drag out the action, kicking and screaming, to the last page.
I hadn't initially realized this was being marketed as a Christian book, so I want to note that in the entire second half of the book, the Protestant proselytization starts getting laid on thick, to the point of completely hijacking the plot. After the halfway point, the action halts almost completely and begins to revolve around prayers and conversations that sound like Protestant tracts on personal (as opposed to intercessor) relationships with Jesus Christ and the utter, absolute importance of virginity, with a side order of how Catholics are "un-Biblical" for believing in the chastity of the clergy, and how the Church doesn't want the laity being able to read the Bible for themselves.
For instance, the setting is Catholic Germany in the 1300's, but the only Catholic "flavor" here is a few quick mentions of priests and some random diatribes against vague "pagans". The *Catholic* main characters have anachronistically personal relationships with Jesus Christ (Mary, incidentally, is not mentioned in this novel even once that I could see), and perform their own personal confessions without the intercession of a priest (because they aren't necessary to the process). Also around the midpoint of the novel, the two main characters start having internal monologues with Jesus Christ almost *every single page*, which really slows down the narrative and makes the book feel more like a "how to pray" instruction book for teens. Literally 40-60 pages are taken up with largely angst ridden prayers and nothing else, and after 10 pages or so it gets really boring really fast. Near the end of the book, there's a completely out-of-left-field scene involving demons (in a book that previously had no mention of the supernatural!), and the main characters end up literally casting out demons in the name of Jesus Christ BY THEMSELVES without seeking the help of the qualified priest that lives and works a couple doors down. In terms of "accurately portraying people of a different time period and/or religion", this book couldn't have missed the mark worse than if the title character had become the first female pope.
As a reader, I really don't mind taking a few liberties with religions and/or historical accuracy - skew everything until it resembles a Slinky, as long as you do it in service to an interesting STORY. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the entire story got jettisoned into boring, preachy sermons about (a) the crucial importance of not kissing your betrothed too much the night before your wedding, (b) of always keeping 19-year-old oaths of silence even when there's a good chance that doing so will completely and totally ruin the lives of everyone you know, and (c) in the face of apparent demon possession, the "responsible" thing to do is to immediately start casting those demons out on your own, despite the fact that people can and have *died* in real life because of that kind of behavior. (Google "what's the harm exorcisms" for a long list.)
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone, ever. In my personal opinion, this was the worst novel I've read this year, and I'm writing this in November.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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