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REVIEW: Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Dear Ms. Snyder,

I feel like I’ve been neglecting the fantasy genre. This is a terrible thing in my opinion because I love the genre. So I thought to rectify the decided lack of non-YA fantasy in recent reading. I thought your latest novel, the first in a new series, would be a good way to jump back in. It wasn’t a doorstopper and from what I recall of your previous books, your writing is light enough to suit my preoccupied brain during the holidays.

Touch of Power by Maria V. SnyderAvry is a healer. Once she considered this a badge of pride. But ever since a deadly plague hit the populace and healers blamed as being the cause, it’s become something she must hide or face execution.

Unfortunately, Avry suffers that particular flaw that afflicts many heroines in fantasy novels: she cares too much for her own good. Here, this manifests as the inability to turn away from a sick child, even though using her abilities means revealing her true nature to people who 1) are hostile to healers in general and 2) receive a sizeable reward for turning in healers. Avry’s been able to elude capture until now but her luck has finally run out.

Or so she thinks. Avry is rescued from certain death but it comes with a price. In exchange for being set free, she must agree to heal a prince who’s contracted the plague and is currently in magical stasis to keep the symptoms at bay. The problem? While healers can cure the plague, they don’t survive the process and die. (In this world, healing works by the healer taking on the damage/illness of the afflicted person and letting their super-immune system do its thing. The problem with the plague is that their immune system doesn’t work fast enough to counter the effects.)

I honestly believed a light fantasy would be right up my alley. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe light fantasies aren’t for me and I’m doomed to keep reading perpetual downers like George R.R. Martin. But this book just didn’t work for me on any level.

First of all, I knew right away that a romantic subplot would develop between Avry and Kerrick, the man who frees her in order to heal his best friend, the prince. I could see that a mile away, but my beef has nothing to do with the predictability. No, my issue has to do with the fact that he treats her like shit for most of the book and since I knew they would eventually fall in love, I spent most of the novel actively repulsed by this endgame.

I understand their relationship is initially meant to be a coercive one. Avry is given an ultimatum and when she didn’t immediately agree, Kerrick spends chapters trying to convince her to change her mind. Desperate people can do horrible things. I understand this. But I cannot root for a romance in which the hero does things like expose the heroine to the elements so that hypothermia will make her capitulate, starve her, tie her to a tree like an animal, and most spectacularly hit her in the face. I don’t care what the circumstances are. I don’t care that the supporting cast chastises him for the abuse. You’ve lost me. Especially when the hero justifies his actions with, “I’m sorry. I was mad.” I can’t get behind this romance at all.

There’s also the minor detail of Avry making an assumption about Kerrick that I’m not certain would or should have been made. In fact, I felt that the only reason this assumption existed was to give the plot artificial tension. Why would she not tell him? Even if she made the erroneous assumption, I feel like she should have tossed this little fact in his face at least once. It was unbelievable that it never came up in conversation at all. This also only compounded my disgust with the romance because if Avry honestly thought Kerrick knew this specific detail, why in the world would she fall in love with him? I’d be pretty pissed that this guy was asking me to die for someone I owed nothing to and who did bad things to my family. It’s not romantic at all and makes me seriously question Avry’s taste in men.

And as so often happens, because I was growing increasingly annoyed by the storyline, I began to notice other flaws. For example, the worldbuilding was shoddy at best. Now I can certainly enjoy fantasy novels in which the worldbuilding is left deliberately vague. But I didn’t get the impression that was the case here. Now I realize that one of the reasons some authors choose to set their novels in the generic faux-medieval European milieu is because that’s the basis for many a fantasy novel. Fantasy readers well-versed in the genre are familiar with it and thus the writer can just spend less time on creating the world and move onto the story. But there’s relying on pre-existing knowledge and then there’s just being plain lazy.

We have healers. We have several other types of mages. Some of which are elemental (bonus points for including traditional Asian elements though) and some of which are not. Other than healers, I had no idea about the power structure or hierarchy of the mages? Do they form gangs? Do they have guilds? Are mages only born to nobility?

Then we have the Death Lilies and Peace Lilies. It took me a couple chapters before I realized the lilies were actually giant man-eating plants and not human peacekeepers with funny names. I hate infodumps but I really don’t think I should have reached such a ridiculous conclusion. On the other hand, maybe I’ve been reading fantasy too long and just assumed that there was no way a Death Lily could actually refer to a lily that causes death. It’s far too obvious. My bad.

On top of this, there were some attempts at political intrigue but due to my distaste with the romance, I actually spent several chapters rooting for the bad guy despite knowing he was the bad guy. Not a good sign in a fantasy novel. Thankfully, we resorted to the age-old cliche of “The villain experiments on children and that’s how you know he’s evil” so I was able to regain my bearings.

Overall, this obviously wasn’t a good choice for jumping back into the fantasy genre. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to cover it. The romance was distasteful and the shoddy worldbuilding was just more icing on the fail. D

My regards,

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!


  1. C
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 06:06:39

    I have only read the “study” series by this author and its seems she hasn’t improved since those books. Judging by your review this book is just as bad, or possibly even worse than that series :/ I’m sorry that your jump back into fantasy was so bad.

  2. Jess
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 07:28:04

    It’s interesting this review touches on not enough info on certain creatures because I read this author’s first YA Romantic Fantasy (“Poison Study”, I think) and while I liked bits and pieces the book was one info dump after another except where it counted. I wanted to know about the supernatural elements, I wanted to know about the villain(s), and so on. Judging from this review for this new book, I would be left wondering how all those characters come into play and how two people who have no reason to be in love and one seems almost-abusive (again, judging from this review) end up being crazy for each other.

  3. LG
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 07:32:42

    The Death Lilies and Peace Lilies paragraph had me laughing, because, when you first mentioned them, I immediately assumed they were two groups of assassins or something. It’s been a while since I encountered something in fantasy that was quite that literal.

    I don’t have any good fantasy to recommend instead, because I realized that it’s been a few months since I last read any fantasy (as opposed to romance with fantasy aspects) myself. Well, other than a reread of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal.

  4. Michelle
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 07:57:09

    Ugh, sounds really irritating.

    If you haven’t read it you should read Clare Dunkle’s Hollow Kingdom. I know I keep pimping it but I think it is an excellent story that is underrated. Fantastic intelligent heroine, who keeps besting the hero as he tries to manipulate her.

  5. Nikki
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 09:20:08

    I have grazed around her other books and not really had an ability to get into them. The beginning of this story sounded interesting and I considered purchasing but I appreciate your review and the warning. I think that heroine abuse really should not com from the hero she is going to end up with. It makes me think that we are glorifying misbehavior as a thing to be aspired to.

    Lack of world-building is a weakness in a lot of reent stories. It extends beyond the fantasy because it seems some authors think that readers will accept whatever they put out and not quibble. That might be true for the first book because I recognize it is an early effort. But at book 7 you should have it together.

    I think I am sticking with my old stalwarts West/Sagara and Pratchett. I never worry about a lack of world-building with them. If only Robin McKinley would write more.

  6. Jia
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 09:26:37

    @Jess: Interestingly enough, the Study series is an example of re-packaging. Those books were originally published as adult romantic fantasies and then later re-branded as YA fantasies.

    @LG: No joke. When they first mention Death Lily, I immediately thought they were a group of assassins or enforcers known to haunt the area or something. I can’t decide if the literal nature was meant to be funny, a sign that fantasy readers have been trained to expect complicated things, or just bad worldbuilding

    @Nikki: I’m currently reading Michelle West’s latest and that’s going FAR better.

  7. Anthea Lawson
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 10:14:10

    I FINALLY started Bujold’s Sharing Knife series, and am absolutely in love with the characters and the writing. So that’s the #1 fantasy series on my list these days. :)

  8. Jayne
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 10:20:00

    I read her first book years ago but had never gone on with that series or tried any of her other books. I had looked at this one at the eHarlequin website and briefly considered buying it. Now I’m so glad that I didn’t. Thanks for taking the bullet.

  9. Maili
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 10:27:16

    Then we have the Death Lilies and Peace Lilies. It took me a couple chapters before I realized the lilies were actually giant man-eating plants and not human peacekeepers with funny names.

    I read that at least thrice and I still can’t get over it. It can only make me imagine something like: “Look, there’s a Peace Lily behind you! Oh, it’s starting to bare its fangs! Run, by the god of whatever, run!”

  10. lisabookworm
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 10:32:21

    I’m currently reading Touch of Power, so I didn’t read your entire review because I was afraid of spoilers… but I have to say that I love Snyder’s books. While some I’ve enjoyed less than others, I would re-read most of her books (which is one of my highest compliments to an author). I’m about 1/3 of the way through Touch of Power and really enjoying it.

  11. Meoskop
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 10:40:14

    I stopped reading Snyder because of the abuse dynamics in her couples. One is an authorial choice, two is a fetish. I am actually surprised she was rebranded as YA, don’t know why. Abusive power dynamics are right on trend for YA. I had been thinking about trying her again, thanks for letting me know she hasn’t changed.

  12. Jia
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 10:43:41

    @Maili: …and you haven’t read the book? Because I swear you just described a couple scenes!

    @Meoskop: Oh. So this type of relationship dynamic is a thing for her? Not that this book inspired me to seek out her other works in any way but that’s good to know!

  13. blodeuedd
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 11:32:40

    Nice review, finally someone who felt a bit more like I felt. And I must say I even rooted for the evil guy at the end even though he knew what he was doing cos, well everyone was so freaking lame

  14. meoskop
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 14:16:53

    @Jia: Yes, her debut opens with the love interest poisoning her deliberately as a method of control. Her life is literally in his hands on a daily basis afterward while she fights to prove herself worthy.

    I went two books past that (well, one and a half) before I wrote her off.

  15. Nikki
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 14:27:09

    @Jia: I am on reread #2 for Skirmish! It is so much better than the last few books. While I love her writing, I was getting to the point where I thought, can we hit the action already? And in reading I realized that she was right. We really did need to go back in order to progress. I look forward to your thoughts and impressions. I am super exciting about the end of the House War series and beginning of the End of Days… presuming we don’t discover something else she needs to focus on… like what the Voyani are doing in the desert as they raise their cities. I can just visualize a 4 book series.

  16. CK
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 14:41:48

    I have to say I totally agree with your review. Once I disliked the protagonists, I focused on plot/world-building and found it lacking. There was potential here, but ultimately, this was a shadow of a better story.

  17. Jaclyn
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 15:47:38

    The lilies paragraph is hysterical, thank you for the giggle. I liked Poison Study when I read it and was hoping this book would be good, a sort of revival after the downward trajectory with the books that followed. Alas.

  18. Tina
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 18:10:07


    I loved Poison Study (still scratching my head about it being called YA, though). Was disappointed in Magic Study. HATED Fire Study. Was so traumatized by the “downward trajectory” that I refused to even consider the Glass series. But had decided that maybe this might be worth picking up to see if maybe she recaptured what she had in PS. But Alas. Oh well, moving on.

    @Anthea Lawson:
    Yes! The Sharing Knife and the Chalion series by Bujold are beautiful. Her writing is just…..sigh.

  19. AmyW
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 18:36:41

    @Meoskop: “@Jia: Yes, her debut opens with the love interest poisoning her deliberately as a method of control. Her life is literally in his hands on a daily basis afterward while she fights to prove herself worthy.”

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that part is abusive. At that point, the heroine is a convicted criminal on death row (as far as the love-interest is concerned) and he has just appointed her food taster. So yes, he’s trying to keep her from escaping by giving her poison while he has the antidote (IIRC, it’s been at least 5 years since I read Poison Study) as part of his job as spymaster/security but they have not begun a romantic relationship yet. To me, there are circumstances in the plot that matter in this case.

  20. Lynz
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 18:55:01

    But I cannot root for a romance in which the hero does things like expose the heroine to the elements so that hypothermia will make her capitulate, starve her, tie her to a tree like an animal, and most spectacularly hit her in the face. I don’t care what the circumstances are.

    Holy crap, I am glad I didn’t buy this. I loved Poison Study so much – I feel the same way as AmyW about the circumstances making a difference in that book – and have been steadily disappointed ever since. I finished the Study series and managed to make it through the first in the Glass series, but the second Glass book has been lying on my shelf unread since it was released. Tina is so right about to call the progression of Snyder’s work a downward trajectory.

  21. Jess (The Cozy Reader)
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 20:47:38

    I recently reviewed this title too; however, I loved this book.

    I guess I turned a blind eye to the abuse that Kerrick dished out (especially the face slap). You’re right that it’s not okay for a man to abuse a women and then have them become a love interest. I mentioned him being “forceful” in my review but I guess I should have pointed out that he does get abusive.

    I’m not a big fantasy reader at all and found this world easy to absorb. I’m glad it wasn’t over the top with descriptions otherwise it would have lost me for sure.

    I didn’t have any issues with the Death Lilies or Peace Lilies. Did you even look at the cover? It’s covered in flowers! So of course I immediately assumed it was literal as a giant, man eating flower! I thought that was one of the most original ideas of the story.

    I also must stress how much I enjoyed the side characters especially Kerrick’s group of men.

    I have other books of Maria’s that I haven’t read yet and will be making it a point to read soon. I’ll also be awaiting the second book to this series.

  22. DS
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 20:52:14

    Poison Study was twisted but it could have worked if the second book in the series had been better, I DNF the second one and didn’t even try the 3rd. Won’t be bothering with this one either. Coward trajectory indeed.

  23. Edyta
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 21:01:57

    Ok, so I’m a bit confused. Is this book YA? I’ve seen a couple of reviews that classified it as fantasy, not YA fantasy. One reviewer even stated that it is not YA. It irks me that as a customer I have to research what type of the book I’m getting, it should not be a surprise. I don’t read YA and the vague descriptions have cost me $ in the past. Very annoying.

  24. Jane
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 21:23:15

    @DS That’s how my reading of the study series went but I actually finished book 2 and threw in the towel at book 3

  25. Brian
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 22:00:49

    @Edyta: It’s a Mira (not Harlequin Teen) title so I’d say it’s not YA. AFAIK the only books she has that have been promoted as YA are the “Inside” books. The “Study” books started out under Luna (for the first two) and moved to Mira and the “Glass” books were also put out under Mira.

  26. Angela
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 23:41:37

    I have this on my wishlist. I think I’ll read Poison Study (which I already own) first though. When I read the line in your review about what the hero does to the heroine (slapping her etc), I immediately recoiled in horror.

    I really hesitate to use the word never, because I’ve seen some authors bring redemption from places I wouldn’t have expected, but I don’t want a guy that hits a woman redeemed – especially with something as simple as a “I’m sorry, I was mad.”

    I’ve heard Bujold recommended a lot. I must get around to reading her Sharing Knife series.

  27. Jia
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 03:48:47

    @Jess (The Cozy Reader): I had an ARC and I suppose this is another sign that I’m an entrenched fantasy reader because I really don’t pay attention to covers since so often they are not a reflection of what’s in the actual book.

    @Edyta: Brian’s right. This book isn’t YA. I think Snyder may be considered a “crossover YA” author but in the opposite direction than we usually think — she writes adult fantasy that some teens read like Mercedes Lackey did with the Valdemar series.

  28. Jaclyn
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 06:53:18

    @Edyta: There’s a list that librarians have called “Adult Books for Young Adults” which I think is administered by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). I put most of Ms. Snyder’s books in this type of category (in my head), that she’s writing adult fiction that crosses over to YA. IIRC, she did write one book expressly for the YA market, which was titled, Inside Out.

  29. LG
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 07:37:52

    @Jess (The Cozy Reader): Literal flowers in the cover art don’t mean that there will be literal flesh-eating flowers in the book. I’m like Jia, I don’t assume that all the details in the cover art necessarily have anything to do with the book’s contents. Flowers are not an unusual thing in cover art. Now, if the cover had an unusual type of plant, like pitcher plants or venus fly traps something, then I might do a double take and wonder. But the flowers on this cover don’t say “these are here for a specific reason” to me.

  30. Jess (The Cozy Reader)
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 07:59:26

    @Jia: I had an eARC via NetGalley but I still paid attention to this cover. The flowers really stood out to me. I did, however, miss the castle in the back. ;)

    @LG: Of course it’s not assumed that all cover art depicts the contents of the story to the T (most certainly do not) but in this case it wasn’t a far cry to connect the dots. Maria did a fine job of explaining the Lilies IMO.

    When I see a cover I always hope that it’s showing me a glimpse of what’s inside the story. So when I saw this cover I immediately asked “What’s with the flowers?”. Hence, I was always on the look out for flower references.

    I think the cover is perfect for this story and commend the publisher for going with it.

  31. Jia
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 08:28:35

    @Jess (The Cozy Reader): Ha! Castles are a dime a dozen on fantasy covers. I don’t think anyone notices those anymore.

  32. Shaheen
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 11:19:20

    @Jia: of course castles are a dime a dozen inside fantasy novels too – which might explain it :-)

    I just finished Touch of Power and felt that Snyder was trying to recreate Poison Study ( which I loved). Heroine coercively saved from execution – check. Heroine forced to save life of political leader she dislikes/despises- check. Lovable side characters – check. Learn to defend yourself – check. Gasp … hero has magic too! – check. Romance fully established in first book leaving me no reason to care what happens in next two books – check.

    Unfortunately, ToP is just not very good. The world building starts off with an interesting premise but then goes completely to pot – giant, poisonous, man eating lilies, really? The quest kept getting hijacked by obstacles to the point where I was going “can we just get there already!” The same companion kept getting mortally wounded so the heroine has to save him. And, last but not least, Kerrick (hero of ToP) is no Valek (hero of PS). In other words it was boring, but not awful – a C in my personal grading system.

  33. Jia
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 11:48:52

    @Shaheen: The more people talked about Poison Study in this thread, the more Touch of Power sounded like it. If her books are indeed on a downward trajectory like other commenters here feel, then I can sort of see why she’d try to recreate Poison Study, which I suspect was her most successful work.

  34. Estara
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 16:55:12

    If you haven’t read it then Ann Somerville’s m/m non-YA epic fantasy start of the Darshian Tales – Kei’s Gift – has a very well written concept of being a healer in a time of war, as well as what happens when an emancipated state and an autocratic one collide. The book has no cliff hanger, by the way.

  35. Jennifer
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 23:43:26

    Without spoiling… the poison issue is not what you think it is. I found the whole situation pretty justifiable under the book’s circumstances and it didn’t red-flag me.

    However, I agree with everyone else who says her books went way downhill from there. The second two Study books were okay but not spectacular somehow, but dear god, the Glass series started out medium bad and just went horribly. Not only is the main character ah…really dumb, the abuse dynamic in that series is EVEN WORSE than this one sounds like it is. I cannot remotely conceive of why the author thought anyone would root for a romantic coupling where the guy abused the heroine on that level. Or why her parents would approve and her other boyfriend would be fine with it. Or why anyone would allow her and a convict to adopt kids in the future. What?!?!

    I don’t get it. I guess the woman had one good book in her or something, but…YIKES. Sea Glass made me so angry I can’t read this author any more. Sounds like she’s doing the same stuff here too.

  36. Heather
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 11:29:14

    I guess I’m one of the few who did enjoy this book, although it’s not her best. And I can definitely understand the comments about trying to recreate her success with Poison Study.

    I’m not much of a reviewer — I read, like/dislike, discard — so I can’t explain why I liked it. And I probably read too quickly to catch problems other people have called it. I don’t notice “bad” things unless they hit my biases and I find them glaring. I guess Snyder’s books don’t do that for me.

    I have to admit, though, I’ve never considered her books romances. I always viewed them as fantasy books, so it surprised me to see them in the romance section and later the YA section. Maybe that’s why the abuse aspects called out in other comments never registered for me. I liked that there was a romance thread, but it wasn’t the center of the story for me or the reason I was reading it.

    Anyway, it was an interesting review that I waited to read until I’d finished the book.

  37. Samantha
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 18:07:45

    But I cannot root for a romance in which the hero does things like expose the heroine to the elements so that hypothermia will make her capitulate, starve her, tie her to a tree like an animal, and most spectacularly hit her in the face.

    Well shit. I bought this book a couple of weeks ago then went about reading a couple reviews. A lot people have mentioned that the hero backhands the heroine which made me really regret purchasing this. But I was still willing to give it a shot because I had already bought it and I had some confidence that Snyder could somehow handle it correctly. But after reading that on top of hitting her he also tortures her? No. I refuse to read a story that justifies abuse against women because the hero eventually realizes he loves the heroine or admits that he was mad from grief. Not acceptable.

  38. Edyta
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 20:40:57

    In my previous comment I didn’t clarify that this book was published by Harlequin Teen outside of North America, hence my confusion. I have since read it and find this review spot on. I do have to disagree on one point: IMO this book is very YA. I know I won’t be continuing this trilogy.

  39. Jia
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 07:02:29

    @Edyta: They published it as a YA book outside of North America? Huh, interesting.

  40. Tumbleweed
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 15:59:46

    Here’s the touch of power trailer on Youtube. Enjoy!

  41. Jia
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 16:42:45

    @Tumbleweed: Is that what the international cover looks like? Interesting.

  42. Piet
    Jan 19, 2012 @ 19:56:02

    As a fantasy novel reader I found Maria v Snyder to have a wide range of variation in her books they might seem a little dark and cloudy with some abuse but come on it looks as if it’s written to show women that even if they are abused they can have extraordinary lives I they set there minds to it Iv read te study series and the glass series both may be fantasy but both have a good story line if you have a open mind and understanding . I can’t wait for te next book to see what will happen I’m hoping a new series comes from Maria another series from the magicians keep ! Excellent work

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