HEALER’S TOUCH by DEB E HOWELL
PB, 362 pages, Kristell Ink
(At the time of writing, “Healer’s Touch” is FREE on all ebook platforms!)
“Healer’s Touch”, New Zealand author Deb E Howell’s debut novel, is an engaging blend of the Old West and steampunk, with some romance elements adding extra spice to the recipe. Llew lives as a boy on the streets of the gold-mining town of Cheer, after being abandoned by her parents at a young age, and relies on her mysterious ability to heal to keep her alive. When she is framed and survives being hung in to town square, she is forced to leave town before she’s branded a witch. Falling in with a band of soldiers escorting a young girl across the country to an arranged marriage, she finds herself attracted to Jonas, an enigmatic tattooed warrior.
But as Llew learns more about Jonas, and about her own powers, she comes to realise that he is devoted to hunting down and killing Healers. Healers like Llew. Torn between opposing forces who want to make use of her own skill, and her growing desire for Jonas, Llew finds herself riding even deeper into danger.
The steampunk elements are slight here (paddle steamers and the brass wrists guns, cogs and goggles of the villain’s armoury), but they do add an edge to this fantasy Wild West. And the shared heritage of the Karan and the Aenuks (and their super-enhanced counterparts) is complex and fascinating, and perhaps could have benefited from being explored at greater length.
I wasn’t a great fan of the romantic sub-plot between Llew and Jonas, which felt as if it was moving a little too fast – their tendency to smooch like horny teenagers at moments of impending danger made me want to chuck a bucket of water over them. Jonas’ “man of mystery” act makes him hard to warm to, even when he reveals his tragic back story. But Llew makes up for it by being funny, tough, compassionate, and not too hardened by her rough upbringing, beneath the tomboyish shell she has a lovable soft centre.
If you like your cowboys with a dash of brass, and your fantasy with a spoonful of romance, you will really enjoy this book. There’s a great deal to enjoy here, from the clever plotting to the intricate world-building. Looking forward to part two!
Drop by the blog later for an interview with Deb where she talks about her influences and her current favourites!