In 1386, in Lower Saxony, the crowd awaits the return of the princes from school, and two teenage girls draw the reader into Melanie Dickerson’s story with their innocent dreams and excitement. Rose is apprenticed to the castle healer, Frau Geruscha who learned Latin and herbs in a Catholic convent before moving here to serve the community. Though amply wise and studious, Rose tries to avoid the unpleasant sights and smells of a healer’s business while helping her mistress. Meanwhile her friend dreams of romance and marriage.
Author Melanie Dickerson recreates the town and people of Hagenheim very convincingly, portraying an intelligent but illiterate community and a Catholic church awkwardly wedded to the castle and its human lord. Rose’s problems with blood are achingly convincing, and it’s pleasing to see her learn to overcome them a she and the reader learn more of her trade. But bigger issues loom. The older prince captures Rose’s heart, a match that can never be allowed. And the younger prince challenges her for stolen affections.
The Healer’s Apprentice is a Christian novel, as becomes apparent about a third of the way in, though references to “conjurers of pagan magic” herald the way much earlier. A message that “God… will make a way for us,” is threaded through a story that slowly grows closer to the familiar fairytale Sleeping Beauty. Daughter of the woodcutter, prince of the realm, the threat of an evil curse… it’s pleasantly satisfying when all the pieces come together.
I probably wouldn’t recommend this novel to non-Christians—the timeliness of God’s assistance may not seem so convincing without prior belief. But it’s a lovely period tale, offering a pleasing suggestion that Catholics in olden days were just as deeply Christian, praying just as willingly as any Christians today. And the reminder of God’s faithfulness is always welcome.
Disclosure: I can’t remember when I bought this but I’m glad I did.