The Healer’s Keep

Title: The Healer’s Keep
Author: Victory Hanley
Primary Audience/age group: 15 +
Genre: Fantasy
# Of pages: 384 (depending on ed.)
Publisher: Laurel Leaf (PB) and Holiday House (HB)
Year of Release: 2002
Part of a Series? No, but the author has several books set in the same world, and overlapping characters between books.
Rating: 3 for violence (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes, highly (It is unlikely that kids used to modern PG-13 movies will be traumatized by the violence or situations in this book)Description: Healers-in-training Dorjan and the disguised Princess Sara possess uncommon gifts within the Healers Keep. In their dreams they visit one another and battle evil with the help of a gifted slave girl theyve never met. When danger and accusation drive Dorjan and Sara from the Keep, they set out to rescue the slave, not knowing she has already taken her freedom and is trying to avoid re-capture.

When the three gifted young-people meet they learn how much each of their gifts are needed, both to hold their physical world together and to keep Saras parents, the king and queen, from dying.

Review: I was very impressed at the authors ability to keep the multitude of characters unique from each other and use each one to advance the plot. There were points of action that were mystical, and others that were based very solidly in the physical world. All throughout I felt confident the author knew what she was doing and never doubted she could make the best come out of a bad situation.

Rating: 3 for the violence and the plain-speaking implication of what beautiful slave-girls could be used for. It is not dwelt on, but it highlights a main characters danger and clarifies her motivations.

This is definitely a 15+ book. The casual (though never condoned) assumption of violence, and intensity of action, along with the emotional manipulation of a female character early in the story skew this solidly to an older audience.

Positive: A good representation of the benefits of mutual interdependence. No one has the arrogance to assume they are sufficient in themselves, gifts complement one another. An emphasis on mercy and the use of non-violent solutions when possible. The good men are honorable in all their interaction with the ladies dear to them, and the slave risks her own freedom to bring along an endangered 8-year-old when she escapes.

Spiritual Elements: There are references to God and prayer, but not in the relational sense we know Him.

A discussion and experimental use of gen takes up most of one class in the Keep. Its description makes it sound at first as though the author is trying to appropriate the idea of chi (life-force energy), but the weirdness wears off when you see its an effort to describe where magic comes from. (A fair effort in a fantasy book, since magic is a core element.)

There is also a near-death experience where a character must choose where she will go, and an afterlife scene where one character gives over the rest of her life to extend someone elses.

Violence: Disturbing, but not gratuitous. Most is to emphasize the savagery of the evil characters (one orders a decapitation) and the location. The slave lives in a barbarous country, illustrated by their various practices, primarily scarring of the face (designating slave or free, married or single, whom a soldier serves) and brandingagain of the face.

Language: I cant remember any strong language, and just now that strikes me as odd, considering the intensity of the evil characters

Sexual Content: The type of scars that designate an (essentially) prostitute slave are mentioned. On the safer side of the world kisses are exchanged and secrets exposed. The foolishness of surrendering them so soon is regretted.

Other: A mind-altering drink plays a significant role.

Recommendation: I highly recommend it for older readers. The themes of loyalty and honor are powerfully portrayed. In this book women can act with power without having to put down or act better than the men around them, so I recommend it as one of few books Ive read that have a healthy approach to male-female relationships. I would urge the parents of <15 to read it themselves to verify its appropriateness because of the intensity.

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