BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Payne, a member of the human-offshot Grotesques and a Healer capable of curing sickness and disease through physical contact, searches for social acceptance and a sense of belonging.
PROS: Beautiful and thoughtful prose; an easy read; well-portrayed society.
CONS: The ending was a bit too surreal and symbolic for my personal tastes.
BOTTOM LINE: Engrossing, well written and very entertaining.
Michael Blumlein’s The Healer tells the story of Payne, a Grotesque. Tesques are an offshoot of the human race characterized by cranial deformities. A small percentage of tesques – Payne included – are Healers who are able to cure sickness and disease through physical contact. But rather then being held in high esteem for their healing power, Healers are essentially slaves. They are taken from their families at age fourteen to perform healings wherever they are assigned up until they die from “The Drain”, an unfortunate side effect of their healing power.
When Payne is taken from his family, he is assigned a job at the Pannus mine, curing miners of their ills so they can keep producing. Here Payne learns that not only does he actually like healing, he’s quite good at it. Later, Payne is assigned to Aksagetta, a city that is geographically half sin (riddled with places of gambling) and – across the bridge – half religion (populated with countless places of worship). In Aksagetta, Payne finds religion through the church and revolution through a group of tesques being manipulated to strike against humans by a charismatic leader. Eventually, Payne winds up in Rampart, a place dedicated to the study of Healers’ concretions. Here Payne makes a startling – though predictable- discovery about his brother Wyn and makes a decision that will change the relationship between tesques and humans forever.
The Healer is an introspective book both in its writing and its reading. It’s introspective in its writing in that the focus is on the plight of the main character and not the world he lives in, although the society itself is very well portrayed. The reader sees all the faults and frailties of human nature through the eyes of an outsider who, surprising as it may seem considering what he sees, longs to be one of them. We do not know the physics, location or history of the unnamed planet on which the story takes place. This tends to focus the reader’s attention on the story itself and not the world. Not many details are given about the science behind the healings but we are shown that Healers absorb the illness into their bodies and extrude its concretion through an orifice known as the “os meli”, a smallish hole on the side of their bodies. In trying to decide if the science behind the details matters to a science fiction book’s enjoyment, I realized that they do not – this book is thoroughly enjoyable. This is not a rip-roaring action yarn; it’s the story of an outsider trying to fit in. And so the book is introspective in its reading because, as the reader follows Payne’s story, we can associate with the feeling of wanting to belong, wanting to help and wanting to lead a fulfilling life.
So the reader is pulled into an engrossing story. It helps that the writing style makes this an easy read. The prologue, which depicts the lengths that Payne’s parents will go to in order to bribe the examiners so that they do not take him away, was very well done and a great hook into the story. The writing is consistently well-done throughout the book yet the ending was…weird. The last fifteen pages or so were infused with surrealism and symbolism that didn’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the book. But that’s a small minus. Since the author is an M.D. himself, there are several points made about medical treatment that many people might not realize. This lends an air of depth to the story that makes it that much more appealing.
Overall, The Healer is engrossing, well written and very entertaining.