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Elisha Barber, by E.C. Ambrose Book Review | SFReader.com
Elisha Barber, by E.C. Ambrose Genre: Fantasy Publisher: DAW Published: 2013 Review Posted: 11/13/2013 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Elisha Barber, by E.C. Ambrose
Book Review by Joshua Palmatier
Have you read this book?
This is E.C. Ambrose's debut novel from DAW Books and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. As suggested by the cover, it's a dark, bloody, realistic look at what a "barber" would have had to deal with in that time period, and yet it wasn't too dark or grim or gritty.
The premise: Elisha is a barber in a version of England (not quite our own England) who is accused of a crime he didn't commit in order to protect the soul of his brother. His execution is commuted... if he's willing to work as a barber on the battlefield of the siege of a nearby duke who has angered the king. In the hospital, with wounded dying right and left, Elisha is forced to confront his own horrendous by necessary actions, which lead to the accusation of murder, his gift as a barber, which includes more than simply patching up and healing the wounded, but also his own brush with magic at a young age... and the legacy of magic that he has yet to discover about himself.
As I said, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I honestly went into it thinking that it was going to be too dark and gruesome, even for me, who writes dark epic fantasy and doesn't shy away from being realistic when it comes to wounds, torture, etc. And this book was solidly real, with Elisha dealing with battlefield wounds and other gruesome tasks. All of the medical situations were described with just the right level of detail, so that the reader knew exactly what was going on, even though it wasn't being described in excruciating exactness. The author left the worst parts up to the reader to imagine, and as I've found in my own writing, the reader's imagination is plenty gruesome enough.
But what I found most appealing was that the author didn't stop by describing Elisha's work realistically. Besides saws and knives and bandages, the author also focused on the fact that healers have to deal with emotional wounds. They need to have empathy for their patients, and they have to focus on making certain the patients want to live as well. Elisha is more than just a barber, he is a healer, and the distinction is made clear with the contrast between his actions and those of most of the other surgeons in the book.
But of course Elisha is more than a barber or a healer. It wouldn't be a fantasy novel otherwise. *grin* The magical aspects of the book were also handled well, and Elisha's discovery of his magic was well played. The magic wasn't what grabbed me and kept me reading though. It was Elisha and his circumstances and how he would deal with the convoluted plots he finds himself enmeshed in, even though all he really wants to do is heal those wounded on the battlefield unimpeded.
My only real complaint is that at a few points in the book I felt that Elisha was perhaps a little too passive about what was happening to him. There were moments where he could have spoken up in defense of himself and saved himself some pain and torment (both physical and emotional), but he seemed to just accept what was to come as if it were his due punishment. I can see this reaction in him for a few of the situations in the book--he does believe he's there for penance--but not ALL of the situations. I felt he should have defended himself more, even if it wouldn't do any good in the end.
But that was a minor quibble in an otherwise great book. So, yes, this is a dark book, filled with a realism that I think is necessary in a fantasy novel, but there was a decided balance between being realistic and telling a good story. It takes the reader down a road dark circumstance, from which Elisha fights for survival, and it's Elisha himself and his own battle that keeps the reader involved and interested in the book. A strong debut from an author that I'll certainly watch for in the future.
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