Review: Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Saturday, December 17, 2011
Genre: fantasy, young-adult
Series: Healer #1
Pages: 396 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: expected December 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan assumes their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Territories, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life.

Though I've often heard Maria V. Snyder's name bandied about as an author to watch out for in both fantasy and young-adult genres, Touch of Power was my first novel from the author. I did not immediately fall in love with this novel - it took about seventy-five pages before I entrenched in Avry's story, with no urge to extricate myself. I have to admit I was so taken with this young-adult fantasy novel that the day I finished it, I went out and bought Ms. Snyder's entire first published series, and by far the most popular of her four. Touch of Power does have a few minor and not-so-minor problems that keep it from my "best-of-2011" lists and from being "great" instead of just "really good", but this was a thoroughly delightful fantasy read. Touch of Power is definitely a young-adult fantasy novel: the themes and "magics" used are basic, if interesting, though I can see easily that this would be a novel that held appeal for other, older fantasy-genre lovers out there.

Avry of Kazan is the main character, and while she may not top my lists of all-time favorites for characters (or even favorites for this novel itself coughBelenFleacough), she is genuine and occasionally very likeable. Her reticence to ever explain her motivations/beliefs got wearying, especially when it was revealed Avry was justified in said action/nonaction/thought- it just took too long to explain why and ended up costing the character some affection from me. In particular, I think that her reasons, besides health-wise for her aversion to Ryne, in particular, felt like they should've been divulged much earlier in the narrative. Avry's hounded life for the three years since the devastating plague that ruined the Fifteen Realms is left largely to the imagination, but what details are supplied only add more valid reinforcement to Avry's world-weary attitude. She might veer into misery and self-importance a bit too often for me to love her, but as the last Healer in her world, it's not un-understandable. She's a fairly grounded character, for all the guilt, worry and fear stacked upon her shoulders. If I didn't exactly love her, I certainly felt more than a semblance of a rapport with the dry, wry twenty-year old. 

The supporting cast is what got to me first, before Avry or Snyder's deceptively readable prose. From the bear-like Belen to the, well, flea-like Flea, this varied group were lovable, amusing and perfect comedic timing for Avry's downcast perspective (the monkeys!) I defy you not to find either Belen or Flea or Quain or Vinn at least mildly amusing. This is a group with definitely chemistry and the book works best when all the gang, with leader Kerrick of Alga, is together. While Kerrick took longer than the others for me to invest in as a character, especially with his overdone and sadlyy obvious Mystery Man Who Is Clearly More Than He Seems act, but I liked the no-bullshit attitude he had, as well as his harder-to-find gooey center. I also liked the dynamic between Kerrick and Avry: two supremely stubborn, smart people refusing to give into the other - it allowed for some amusing and revealing dialogue, especially on the long treks the company partook. Belen is definitely my over-all favorite; Poppa Bear may not be the most developed character, but what is shown is more than enough to cement me in his fanbase. I did wish there was more than one female character traveling in the marauders, in order to contrast with Avry, but this a very male dominated novel.

I wish that the world-building of the Fifteen Realms had been as strong, even if flawed, as Avry is presented. For a fantasy novel, I found the almost complete lack of world-building to be a major flaw in Ms. Snyder's design. Besides basic information, like the Fifteen Realms title for the continent, barely any details about the cities, history, etc. are meted out for the reader to digest. I was thoroughly disappointed in the lack of atmosphere, setting, information Ms. Snyder failed to provide - there is a lot of potential in this vibrant world with its mix of monarchies, presidencies, republics - and the grey areas are detrimental to the colorful world otherwise in existence. Thankfully for the Fifteen Realms themselves, and happily for me as an insatiable reader, there are to be sequels in this series and world, and I have confidence that the next one (Scent of Magic due out 2012), will pick up certain areas of laxity that were present in the first. I also hope that included along in the more detailed information about the realms, Scent of Magic will explain some of the seeming anachronisms present in the novel. In a novel that comes across as mostly/vaguely medieval, word-drops like "president", "syringe" ,"toxins", and "sociopath" don't seem to fit within the vernacular of the world. It disoriented me when Avry would so casually reference a scientific advancement and no explanations left me frustrated with the where and the when of the novel.

Touch of Power is  fast-paced, action adventure. It - and Mrs. Snyder - don't hesitate to throw the characters into many and varied adventures as they race the clock: events such as jailbreaks, rebellions, plagues, and a myriad of magical problems dog the heroes all the way across the Nine Mountains. Even characters beloved and clsoe to my ehart sadly weren't safe, though their losses were effecting and overall necessary to the plot. I can also say I was impressed with the seemingly-random plotlines, events, ideas that Ms. Snyder managed to pull together almost effortlessly. Everything works for this novel, plot-wise: event plants I had assumed irrelevant came back later int he novel with genuine twists and turns I never saw coming. I had no issues with Ms. Snyder's easy, readable style in Touch of Power, in particular her deft and descriptive hand for fight scenes and combat keep the stakes high without overdoing the bloodshed and deaths. 

I wished for more depth from the villain of the novel, as well. First off-screen and whispered about, then on-screen and somewhat chilling, Tohon of Sogra is a capable big bad, but I find his motivation for everything to be rather. . . simplistic. He's explained and introduced as such a smart, devious, creepy man that I expected much much more for the raison d'etre of his madness and his plans.  Like with other, previously mentioned details, it just seemed less than the potential the character had. Don't get me wrong: he's very effective and entirely believable in his role how he is presented, I just felt there was an opportunity for more. I just couldn't buy his too-easy reasons.

Touch of Power wraps up its action-packed pages with a decent, nice ending - definitely not the most riveting, but ensured my full attention and worry. Various prevalent and mysterious elements from the story were combined believably, without coming off as a deux-ex-machina. I ended this novel practically itching to get my hands on the next - and I think that is the most telling thing about this novel. As frustrated and irritated as I was over some bits and parts, I NEVER considered not continuing this series the minute the next book is available.  I can't wait to join Avry, Kerrick, Belen and the monkeys as they continue their adventures all over the Fifteen Realms.


  1. Wow, this book sounds really good. I have the first book in the Magic Study series and I started reading it a while back and got to about 100 or so pages, but I got into a reading slump and didn't feel like reading it at the time so I put it down. But I will definitely be checking this book out and definitely be picking up Poison Study again soon and finishing it. =) Thanks for the review!

  2. It was good, after a while. I fully warn you the first 75 is a lot of info, establishing Avry, etc. but it gets good.
    I actually have the Study series waiting to be read. (They stare at me from the TBR pile o_o) so I'm worried you were less than enthused :\
    I'll have to try them in a bit and hope they're better!


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