Review of Healer and Witch

Healer and Witch Healer and Witch
by Nancy Werlin
Middle School    Candlewick    304 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-5362-1956-2    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5362-2457-3    $19.99

Werlin’s new novel is cause for celebration—for its sleek, sharp prose; intelligent ideas; and precise characterization, to name but a few of its attributes. Set in 1531 France, this is the tale of Sylvie, an untaught telepathic healer, who, after the death of her grand-mère, mistakenly removes much of her mother’s memory while trying to ease her grief. In the company of clever, rambunctious young neighbor Martin, Sylvie leaves her tiny hamlet in quest of a mentor to teach her how to use her powers safely; the two travel to Lyon with the caravan of an enterprising trader to find the renowned magic-user Madame du Bois. But both Madame du Bois and the trader turn out to be something of a surprise—and will Lyon’s new inquisitor prove to be a help to Sylvie, or a danger? Every sentence here pushes character and plot forward, so there’s plenty of momentum and suspense; but what is more unusual is the way Werlin prods characters (and readers) to think through ideas of faith and reason in making their own choices. The story has its articulate and challenging “lessons” (for instance, even after you discover who it is you’re meant to be, “you must work hard every day to become that person”). Just as much, it invites questions and rigorous reasoning, refusing to bow to romantic sentiment (“But men owned their wives,” Sylvie thinks, considering the legal realities of marriage). A refreshingly honest and elegantly written work of historical fantasy.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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