(This cover is my favorite, but you may know Touch of Power by it's alternative cover, seen here.)
Seeing the approval on Netgalley for this book made my week, and that's not an exaggeration. I've been hyped for Touch of Power since I first heard about it, and being as Snyder is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, you can imagine how excited I was to get my hands on an advanced copy of the first in a new series. And it had better be a series, mind, because I would cry if this book didn't ever get a sequel.
Touch of Power is the story of Avry, a woman with the ability to heal others by taking on their wounds. One would think being such a self-sacrificing being would make Avry loved, but the opposite is true: in Avry's world, the healers were accused of causing and refusing to heal one of the worst plagues in history, one which killed so many people that it completely destroyed all government systems everywhere. Those healers who are still alive are hunted, a bounty on their heads. It would be easy for Avry to stay hidden and pretend that she's normal, but every time she tries, she can't resist healing a sick child, and is forced to go on the run again after the town tries to turn her in. It is after being caught that Avry meets Kerrick, a man who busts her out of prison just before her execution. Kerrick believes that Avry's powers can be used for a good cause, his cause, and is willing to do what it takes to make her agree.
I loved Touch of Power. I just adored it. It's an adventurous, slightly romantic story mixed with a lot of lovely fantasy, amazing characters, and a good dose of humor, and the only bad thing about it is that it ends, in my opinion.
The fantasy aspect is there without being overwhelming, the way a lot of books are. Instead of throwing so much magical jargon at you that you can barely stand, any terms that Snyder uses are eventually explained, and there aren't a million references to keep track of. There's nothing worse than reading a fantasy novel that reads like a DND campaign when you've never played. After the fifth ring of Serrapis or whatever, you tend to lose track of what goes where and what does what, and I love that Snyder doesn't just load her stories up with fantasy just because. There's a good bit of magic and wizards and such, but there's just enough to make the story great without making it complicated.
I adored Snyder's characters in this book. Avry is a the kind of female heroine that I love, a stubborn, strong leading woman who just happens to be completely awesome. She's strong willed without being stupid, she's ethical, and she's no damsel in distress. At the same time, she's not the overly hard butch chick who saves everyone. She's more of a character and less of a stereotype, and I love that. She's not weak, but she's not so strong that there's no point to the story. She needs saving sometimes, but she does the saving sometimes, so maybe, more than saving, she just needs help. She's one of the best main characters I've read about in a while.
Besides Avry, great characters include Kerrick and his band of men, among others. Kerrick is devoted and willing to be cruel for his cause, but too softhearted to actually keep this cruelty going. His men include a street rat, two chivalrous men who would risk their lives to protect others, and a large beast of a man that could easily rival Hagrid in size of form and heart. Even the villain, for all that he's, you know, evil, is pretty well fleshed out. He's honorable despite being cruel, and there's a method to his madness.
If I had to pick out the weakest part of this book, I'd say it wasn't so much the setting that was built, so much as how it was built. The setting itself is pretty cool, and I loved the idea of Death and Peace Lilies, I loved the fantasy-esque setting, and I loved the magic system that Synder set up. But at the same time, I was a little hazy on the details of this universe, and I really hope it's fleshed out a little more in other books in this series, because right now I don't know what to classify it as. It's a gorgeous setting, really it is, but I can't figure out what exactly it is. Sometimes it seems like a glorious fantasy setting full of magic and castles, then the next it seems like it might be not too far from the world of today. I can't tell if the setting of Touch of Power is supposed to be a 'our world after the plague wipes it out' type of world, a 'medically advanced medieval' type of setting, or something like a world that is our own, but in more of a developing nation setting with magic. I just don't know what to think when this fantasy world has characters start injecting people with syringes. It just clashes, in my mind.
Overall, I loved Touch of Power, almost as much as I loved the Poison Study that caused me to become a fan of Synder to begin with. It's a great first book in what I can't wait to become a series, with a main character I can't wait to keep reading about. The book ends at a point that makes me crave the sequel right now, without being such a cliffhanger that I'm obsessing, and it's books like Touch of Power that make me realize that the worst part of being an ARC reviewer is having to wait extra long for the sequel.
I'd recommend Touch of Power to Tamora Pierce fans, first, because Synder and Pierce seem to go hand in hand to me. I'd also recommend Touch of Power to the YA crowd, although it isn't strictly YA based on the characters themselves, just because it has the same feel that YA usually does. And I'd recommend it to anyone who just wants to read an amazing book, whether they've heard of Maria Snyder or not.
So if Touch of Power sounds interesting to you, please pick it up when it comes out in one month, on December 27, 2011!