Almost three years ago, I read the first book in Maria V. Snyder's Healer trilogy, Touch of Power, and I utterly slammed it. I don't regret this. Despite not having re-read the book in that time, I distinctly remember how unpleasant the story was to begin with, and I have no desire to go back and relive that experience. That said, while reading some other Snyder books and deciding to do a deeper study on how her writing has changed, I thought I pretty much had to finish the Healer trilogy so I could understand this part of Snyder's writing career and examine any changes within. And so, after finishing the Glass trilogy, I rather reluctantly checked Scent of Magic out of the library.
Let's start simply: this book was better than Touch of Power, but I'm still not sure it was good. Avry, our little special snowflake who you can tell is a special snowflake because her name is spelled specially (this is a tried and true method, I assure you) has survived the plague that killed every other healer in the fifteen realms that make up her world. Or, well, she didn't survive it, but she was brought back to life by a weird plant. No one understands this plant. I'm not even sure Snyder understand this plant. Throughout the first book, and now this one, it really seems like Snyder just went, "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if...?" without really thinking through any of the (missing) logic that could hold up these "cool" things. Like how are the plants sentient? If they're spread so far, over distances that are weeks and months apart over varied terrains, how are they really one (or two) organism(s)? And how do their life/death properties really work? AND, while we're at it, how on earth does crossing two plants together create a plague? A new sort of toxin, sure, maybe, depending on the other plant in the equations, but an actual plague? Like a virus or a bacteria? That doesn't make any sense. I don't think that's possible, even in Avry's world. She tries to explain a way a few of these things throughout this book, and link the plants more closely into the central story, but I didn't feel convinced by any of the flimsy explanations offered. Since the plants are pretty much the original source of all of Avry's troubles, this is kind of a problem.
In this book, Avry goes undercover in an attempt to conceal the fact that she's still alive--and wanted by pretty much everyone--so she can find her sister and maybe a way to stop Tohon and his zombies. Of course this does not go as planned. This is more of Snyder trying to tie in plot threads that she brought up in the first book, but didn't really integrate. The problem here is that she's still so busy rushing from plot to plot that things get touched on and then brushed aside in a rush, so she can move on to the next thing. This means that, in addition to plots seeming half-baked, the characters' reactions to them don't come across as genuine. I mean, the death of an important character (and the apparent deaths of several more) result in reactions akin to, "Oh, that didn't go as planned. Now he/she is dead. That's unfortunate, and I'm very sad about it, and if someone else dies I won't be able to go n, but for now here's me, going on quite nicely, thank you very much. Duty and all! Hip hip cheerio!" Okay, maybe not quite so perky as "Hip hip cheerio!" but the rest of it isn't very exaggerated at all. Meanwhile, all the characters switch personas (mainly from hating Avry to being her best friends) within the space of a few pages and continue to be so unobservant that it's truly mind-boggling that they manage to get anything done. How did someone not manage to notice that several hundred extra prisoners of war appeared in their camp overnight? And then there's Tohon in general, especially because Snyder tries to give him a really weird and stupid motivation in this book, which is that the reason he wants to take over the fifteen realms as the ultimate king is that he didn't get elected king while at school. What? In the words of the Monty Python troupe, "You don't vote for kings!"
Probably the best part about this book was Kerrick. Kerrick, as I remember, was an ass in the first book and I didn't buy his romance with Avry one bit. In this book, he and Avry are separated for all but a chapter or two, with Kerrick attending to a barbarian invasion in his home realm in the north. This was interesting. There's clearly something going on there, and the barbarians have some awesome season-based magic that I would have loved to see more off--we only got a glimpse of Winter's Curse and Summer's Touch. Rakel was awesome and I wanted her to become a new love interest for this seemingly new-and-improved Kerrick. I still don't think he should be a good love interest for Avry because of his past actions toward her, but I think he could be redeemed in general. Maybe. We'll see. But as things stand at the end of this book, I'm not sure how much we'll see of the northern people. Which is sad, because those characters were some of the coolest.
Oh, and this book ends with another total cop-out, especially because it's clear how the cop-out is going to be resolved.
Overall, this was better than Touch of Power. Snyder wove some of the strands she just dropped in Power to conclusions, and she didn't really add any more brand-new strands that felt like they were discarded out of hand. But the lack of character growth and the rushing about continue, meaning that nothing really comes across as sincere and it's hard to get emotionally involved in the tale. Considering that The Mirror King had me getting a little teary-eyed over a character's sacrifice just yesterday, this is a bit disappointing. It's better than Power, but it's still not good. It's really just okay.
2 stars out of 5.