Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson

For someone who doesn't watch much TV, I have to admit that I'm looking forward to a few things I've noticed in the Fall TV line-up. Why?

Fairy tales are trending.

I don't just love fairy tales, I luh-uh-uvvv them. Seriously. When I hear the words "fairy" and "tale" mentioned in the same sentence, strange things begin to happen: my ears perk up, my breathing becomes shallow, and my pulse quickens, pumping a sudden rush of glitter through my veins. Weird, right?

So sue me.

So yes, Virginia, this fall I am setting my DVR to catch the pilot episodes of upcoming shows like Once Upon a Time (scheduled to premier on ABC October 23rd) and Grimm (premiering on NBC Oct. 28th -- viewer discretion advised, by me, based on trailers.), but when it comes to fairy tales, my favorite way to experience them will always be through the magical portal we know as... books.

Fairy Tales are easy to find in mainstream fiction (especially YA), but a little bit harder to locate in Christian circles. That's why I was pleased as punch to discover an author who is filling that gap: Melanie Dickerson.

The Healer's Apprentice, released in 2010, is a retelling of the classic fairy tale, "The Sleeping Beauty". Here's the sitch, as it appears on the Barnes & Noble website:

Two Hearts. One Hope.

Rose has been appointed as a healer's apprentice at Hagenheim Castle, a rare opportunity for a woodcutter's daughter like her. While she often feels uneasy at the sight of blood, Rose is determined to prove herself capable. Failure will mean returning home to marry the aging bachelor her mother has chosen for her—a bloated, disgusting merchant who makes Rose feel ill.

When Lord Hamlin, the future duke, is injured, it is Rose who must tend to him. As she works to heal his wound, she begins to understand emotions she's never felt before and wonders if he feels the same. But falling in love is forbidden, as Lord Hamlin is betrothed to a mysterious young woman in hiding. As Rose's life spins toward confusion, she must take the first steps on a journey to discover her own destiny.

This novel is shelved as YA and even though I got it for ME, my freshman daughter snagged it before I even had a chance to crack the spine. Being the loving, giving, and sharing-of-literature mom that I am, I gave her a quick swat on the patootie and waited for her verdict. The next day (I don't know where she gets it!) my dear sweet eldest had finished reading the novel, so she gave it back with a "thumbs up" and I dug in.

I thought the tale got off to a bit of a choppy start -- I was expecting a birth and a fairy and curse. It didn't take long before I found myself wondering exactly which fairy tale was being retold; but even though certain elements did not make an appearance in their "expected form", I was soon drawn in to Dickerson's tale.

This isn't the Walt Disney Golden Book we grew up with. There are no fairies flitting about or fire-breathing dragons, or sword-wielding princes who never speak. Wilhelm doesn't wax poetic overmuch in his speeches, but he is more than a card-board cut-out handsome prince -- he is gentle, responsible, and committed to his duty as heir to the dukedom and keeper of peace between the realms.

As a heroine, Rose had a refreshing meekness that is uncommon in today's YA literature. Like many Christian romances, this celebrates love, duty, and sacrifice -- but as a YA fairy tale it includes a most unexpected ingredient: spiritual warfare.

Ms Dickerson handles the evil villain of the tale with a more Biblical approach to pagan magic than is usually seen in YA fairy tales, giving our heroes both physical and spiritual battles to wage. The positioning of these scenes, so closely together near the end of the novel (though they are hinted at throughout the rest of the text), startled me a bit -- but I appreciated the soft-core-Peretti style in which the spiritual scenes were rendered.

Although I'm a bit late coming to the party on this title (it was a Christy finalist last year!) I'm glad I finally got to read it and I am most certainly looking forward to reading Melanie Dickerson's next fairy tale, The Merchant's Daughter, due out December 1st.

Serena's Rating:


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