"Two strangers, two years, one mission: Travel the back roads of an unfamiliar country and heal those who need to be healed. Including, perhaps, themselves."
You already know this is going to be something different. It's definitely fantasy, while also being the furthest thing possible from the usual tropes and stereotypes of the genre. The Balance Academy series by S.E. Robertson is a refreshing journey that every fantasy reader should consider taking.
The Healer's Road
Two very different characters, with two very different motivations for taking positions as healers on a merchant caravan journey.
I found a recommendation for The Healers' Road in ParaCactus' amazing Mundane and Slice of Life SFF Recommendations List. It was just what I needed to pull me out of my reading slump.
Agna had looked forward to her overseas assignment for the last four years. It was just a side project on the way to taking over her father’s art agency, of course, but she eagerly awaited the opportunity to use her education and prove that studying to be a magical healer had been worthwhile.
Keifon never wanted to leave home. His choice was bleak: ship himself overseas, or be shut out by the man he loved. But he followed the gods’ will. He only wanted to spend some time alone, make himself useful to the foreigners as a medic, and make up for the things he’d done.
Two strangers, two years, one mission: Travel the back roads of an unfamiliar country and heal those who need to be healed. Including, perhaps, themselves.
Gentle, but solidly written.
Character-driven, but plenty to get into.
Not crammed with action, but filled with growth.
My recommendation reads:
I absolutely loved this book!
Recommended in @paracactus' 'Slice-of-Life Fantasy' list, it provides a place to go, a world to just sit in and enjoy.
Like the contemplative and cozy parts of The Steerswoman series, Jaran, and The Guy of Gisborne books, you simply get lost in the subtly portrayed world.
A fantasy setting without the usual tropes or stereotypes. A fantasy book to love.
The Healers' Road is the beginning, for their journey and their relationship. We see both Agna and Keifon come to terms with their pasts, accept their present and even start planning for their futures - perhaps together.
This kind of growth is something I have trouble finding in most fantasy stories. There are plenty of fantasy titles where things change and adapt. Juliet E. McKenna's Einarinn series are great examples of advancement and change in a fantasy setting, but with S.E. Rebertson's books, the changes are on the personal level.
The Healers' Home
Family expectations, awkward commitments and trying relationships flesh out this wonderful book.
When our characters decide to settle in the town of Wildern, things slow down. They need jobs, an income, a place to live. The story stretches out too, but I felt fine with that. Instead of seeing it as an author stretching out a story, I realised it's about life. The mundanity of it. Changes always happen around you, and it's no different in Wildern:
Agna thinks it’s ripe for some more culture. She launches her plan to open her own art gallery, putting off her family’s pleas to come home and join the family business. A new mentor seems to suggest that her talents are better spent as a healer, but why else did she come to town?
Keifon becomes a doctor’s apprentice, hoping to settle into a quiet new life, even though he suspects that such dreams are out of his reach. And why is he finding it so hard to move out of Agna’s house and reach for the life that he’s always said he wanted?
A new improvement project will bring an old friend to this growing border town, and test the healers' loyalties. The past won’t let go, and the future won’t wait...
There are past issues that need to be resolved, or at least confronted. There are relationships to recognise and accept. And there's a future to look forward to.
I mention in my recommendation, "The Healers' Home gives us a more stable setting, some new drama as past-acquaintances re-appear, and work to do as Agna and Keifon try and fit in to their new lives." This is what slice-of-life fantasy is all about. A different way to look at the world around us, accepting that heroic deeds don't always include fighting vast armies, exploring monster-filled dungeons, or casting epic spells to level mountains. Heroes are usually found getting on with their lives... and as we all know, especially as healers.
You can buy both The Healers' Road & The Healers' Home by S.E. Robertson in DRM-free formats from Kobo.
For more slice-of-life science-fiction and fantasy books, visit Para's Mundane and Slice of Life SFF Recommendations List.