The Healer’s Apprentice

Healer's ApprenticeI felt misled by The Healer’s Apprentice. I borrowed the book from Booksfree and, based on the publisher’s description, I expected a YA retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Had I realized from the beginning I was reading Christian historical romantic fiction instead of a fairytale retelling, I would perhaps have been less disappointed. I have to admit this dashing of expectations may have led me to being particularly critical of the book.

I suppose you could say the story is very loosely based on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, which in turn is very loosely based on some version of the fairytale, but in something advertised as a Sleeping Beauty retelling, I expect more than a heroine named Rose who takes a nap as she recovers from some nasty concoction.

Also, I was unaware that the book is published by Zondervan, a Christian publisher, so I was unprepared for God’s will to have so much influence over the plot. I have no issues with Christian literature—I’m glad it’s there for people who want it. But it’s not something I typically choose to read on my own and not what I was expecting when I borrowed the book. I wish that aspect of it was more clearly called out in how this book is presented.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Religion & God

Both play a significant role in the plot. The characters seek God’s will and don’t trust their own feelings. There’s a lot of praying and a good bit of casting out demons. There’s some discussion about how and why God answers prayer, for instance after a 3 year old girl dies of fever. Why is Rose saved and the child is not, even though both are fervently prayed for? Few answers are found, but the questions are asked earnestly.


Sex is an underlying theme, much more than I would have expected even before I realized the Christian theme. Pretty much every man is out to take a woman’s virtue—she must always be on guard and trust no one. Overall, I got the impression that men in general and a woman’s own physical feelings are absolutely not to be trusted. At least two characters were physically accosted and barely escape with their virtue intact. Physical feelings can override your better judgment and make it harder to discern God’s will. Oh, and most men get drunk, and then they get rowdy, and then they start saying raunchy things, and then the women are in major trouble—it’s a woman’s responsibility to remove herself from the situation before it reaches that point. Our hero is, of course, an exception to all of this who puts duty before everything else (and when he’s tempted not to because of love, Rose is there to remind him not to go against what God wants for him).


The story is set in 1386, so there’s an assumption that women have little independence anyway. Our spunky heroine has a dog who looks after her, so that gives her a bit of autonomy. She’s constantly dodging the men her mother wants to marry her off to. She fights off and stands up to men who compromise and grab her. But to find true happiness, she has to stop thinking for herself and just trust in God’s will. I have to admit, I had trouble with that message.


Rose never really fit in with her family and was grateful to be taken in by Frau Geruscha as the healer’s apprentice. Her mother obviously favors her younger siblings. Her father loves her but is seldom around. Later we learn that Rose is adopted, which apparently explains why her mother favors her natural born children. Her mother only took her because she thought she couldn’t have her own children. Once she did, Rose’s only useful purpose was to marry well so that she could help out her younger siblings.

Lord Hamlin (our hero) and his brother are opposites who don’t get along very well. They occasionally get into physical altercations. Their younger sister is sweet, though.


There are several graphic scenes of wounds being sewn up. The point is that Rose get queasy around blood and therefore is a terrible healer’s apprentice, so we should know she’s meant for greater things. But man, some of that was graphic and prolonged, especially in the first few chapters.


Frau Geruscha knows Rose’s true identity but has to keep the secret. This leads to prolonged heart break, puts Rose in mortal danger occasionally, and nearly leads to the unraveling of the whole plot intended to protect Rose. Since I’d figured out the secret early on, this got pretty old by the end of the novel. Sure, vows of secrecy should ideally be kept, but when the person the secret is meant to protect is in danger because of that secret, it’s probably worth at least some strong hints if not outright telling what you know.


We should all know that Rose is actually a princess because she’s just too pretty to be a peasant. She gets everyone’s attention because of her beauty (oh, and she’s smart and virtuous. But oh so pretty!). While Rose rebels against the idea that nobility is inherently better and more moral than the peasantry, the author drives home that very point by having the princess-in-disguise be prettier and more moral than the people around her.


If you go into this book expecting a Christian-themed historical romance, it might be an enjoyable book. But I found the storytelling to be clunky, the portrayal of men offensive, and the role of women questionable at best. I won’t be recommending this to my daughter or her friends. If the values portrayed here are in line with yours, though, it’s probably fine for ages 13 and up.


The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson
Published in 2010 by Zondervan
Borrowed from Booksfree




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