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I rarely read “inspirational fiction” anymore.  Most of it is formulaic, poorly written, and gives readers a false view of God, Christians and the Christian life.  So had I known that The Healer’s Apprentice fell into this genre, I might not have picked it up.  And, to compliment Dickerson, I didn’t realize that I was reading “Christian fiction” until I was well into the book.

The things that I enjoyed about this book: it was a subtle retelling of Sleeping Beauty, it was set in medieval times (and not, thank goodness, in Amish country!) and the characters prayed to and referenced God without being over the top.  Kudos to Dickerson for a fresh perspective in a genre that desperately needs one.

Orphaned by the brutal murder of her parents,  Princess Ben, the only heir to the throne,  is confined to the castle by Queen Sophia.  Ben misses her parents and chafes under the restrictive and controlling queen.  When she discovers a secret tower full of magic, Ben begins learning the secret and long-forgotten magical arts.  At first, this is just a diversion, but when her country’s sovereignty is threatened, Ben must put her new powers to work and defend her country.

There were many things that delighted me about this book, one being the clever allusions to numerous fairy tales woven neatly into the plot.  But more than that, even though this book was full of witches, magic and dragons, it had a very “real” sense about it.  Princess Ben was a very real character.  No slender, beautiful, graceful princesses here!  Ben is overweight, sometimes sullen, selfish and lazy.  Because of that, she’s a character that you can relate to and love.  Ben’s search for true love is real, and even her use of magic is tempered with a good bit of common sense!  Ben’s parents were also very real, and instead of being demonized (as so many Young Adult books tend to do) they are celebrated.  My favorite quote comes right at the end:

…I dedicate this work to her memory as well as that of my parents, for however we might criticize those who rear us, the fact that we survive at all into adulthood, however late that passage comes, is testament enough to their ability and perseverance.  p. 344

FairestI absolutely loved Levine’s Ella Enchanted (before Miramax made it into a cheesy movie, that is.) Fairest is another clever re-telling of a fairy tale (Snow White), but it doesn’t have the magic of Ella.