Review: Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder (Spoiler-Free)

Some years ago, a devastating plague broke out across the fifteen realms, and healers were blamed for the quick spread of the disease. Avry of Kazan was never able to complete her training as a healer, yet she now finds herself the only one of her kind remaining, as the never-large guild has been mercilessly hunted down, and its members executed. And this could easily have been Avry’s fate, too, had it not been for the interference of Kerrick – her rescuer, but also her captor, and sworn to a prince she despises.

I really, really wanted to like this book. The premise sounded interesting, and I loved Poison Study, so I know I at least am capable of enjoying Snyder’s storytelling – though none of the books of hers that I’ve read have quite lived up to the brilliance of that first one. And Touch of Power did start out quite strong; Avry was quickly established as a likeable character, living in times that were difficult for everyone, but for healers in particular, their persecution entirely unjust – at least as far as Avry can discern. The nature of Avry’s healing powers – taking the injuries of others upon herself – also lends itself to the possibility for some great internal conflict, especially when combined with the deadly presence of the plague…

Sadly, however, the vast majority of the story was just boring. A good chunk of the book was spent with our heroes wandering around various different (indistinguishable) forests, and occasionally going on a short mission, or visiting a town, neither of which (usually) added anything to the overarching plot… And almost all the major twists and turns of the story were utterly predictable, from Avry’s romance to what was clearly supposed to be a shocking betrayal near the end of the book, but was in fact obvious from the moment the character in question first opened their mouth.

In fact, Touch of Power‘s biggest surprise for me ended up being the reason for Avry’s reluctance to heal Ryne, and that’s only because it seems so petty. Granted, rumour doesn’t paint Ryne as the nicest man in the world, but we’re led for a long time to believe that Avry has a powerful, personal reason to believe that the world is better off without him in it – and it would have to be a strong reason, because it’s made clear that she’s willing to risk her life to heal others, even those she doesn’t know.

The worldbuilding – one of the greatest strengths of Poison Study – was also sadly lacking here. There are thirteen different kingdoms in Touch of Power‘s world, and although Avry and her companions only travel through a handful of them, the lack of distinct environments is notable. I’ve already mentioned that there’s a lot bland forests, but they’re accompanied by bland mountains, towns and caves, with the only places that really managed to set themselves apart being the healers’ hidden archives, and Tohon’s palace, which is unusual by virtue of being the only single place that Avry explores in detail. I did see some potential in the Death and Peace Lilies (giant flowers that are identical in appearance, but one is harmless, while the other will eat you alive), but while they were conceptually very cool, they seemed mainly to act as a deus-ex-machina in execution.

As a protagonist, Avry was reasonably likeable, but somewhat inconsistent. I said earlier that I thought her reason for hating Ryne wasn’t worth the amount of energy that she put into it, but since she did hate him so much, I found it rather frustrating that she seemed to change her mind about healing him so easily – and that malleability was a trend throughout the book…

In terms of character development, she (and Kerrick) had a token amount, but the supporting cast were entirely forgettable (it’s been a few weeks since I finished this book, and the only reason I remembered Avry’s name was because it was in the series’ title; everyone else I had to look up). Two of Kerrick’s companions – Belen and Flea – had a decent chunk of screen time, but Loren and Quain could have been removed entirely without consequence to the story progression or even character interactions. Lack of screen time was a problem for a lot of the other characters, too, as they tended to flit in and out of the story quite rapidly, leaving little time for the reader to get to know them (or even want to)… Except for Tohon, who was incredibly one-dimensional, but did at least feel genuinely threatening.

[A brief aside about Tohon: Why does his power make him so irresistible to Avry? Presumably it’s due to some kind of reaction between both of their magic, because it doesn’t seem like attraction/mind control is anything that would be intrinsically linked to a person’s life-force. And why does he even want Avry to sleep with him so badly? Just to annoy Kerrick? I wouldn’t be surprised, but the weird rivalry between the royals in this book was another thing that annoyed me, mainly because I found the boarding-school-for-royals idea so out of place in this medieval-style setting… Anyway, my point is that Snyder spent far too much of this part of the book on Avry trying to resist Tohon’s advances, which really derailed the (already kind of all over the place) story, right as it was supposed to be reaching its climax.]

Given everything I’ve said so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if you all thought I hated Touch of Power, but I didn’t; I just found it disappointing, and a big part of that disappointment is my own fault for expecting too much. It was a quick and easy read, and never completely unenjoyable, and although it left me feeling mostly apathetic, fans of Snyder’s other books (as opposed to just Poison Study) may be more inclined to like this one, too. And that glimmer of potential from the book’s original premise is still there, unrealised, so I won’t say that there’s no hope for the series going forward – even if I’m not likely to stick with it myself.

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