1989’s Eldrie the Healer is the first and only volume in Claudia J. Edwards’ Bastard Princess secondary-world fantasy series.
Eldrie left her native Maritiene, where she was an unhappy, bullied bastard (but of royal stock, so would have been a princess if legitimate), to become a wandering healer. Eager to find work, Eldrie journeyed to the strife-torn Republic. She soon discovered two flaws in her plan. First, a decade of civil war meant nobody could afford to pay her. Second, rather than being seen as a neutral in the conflict between Theocrat and Monarchist, Eldrie was seen by both sides as the ally of the other side and therefore a legitimate target.
Searching for a way past clashing Theocrat/Monarchist forces, Eldrie finds herself face to face with a rampaging barbarian.
The tall man is not so frenzied as to fail to recognize a healer when he sees one. Huard proposes an alliance, his loyal service in exchange for Eldrie’s healing arts. The alternative being violent death at the swords of one faction or another, Eldrie agrees.
Once the pair escapes the ruins of the Republic, they are able to take up Eldrie’s long-term quest, the search for a healing mage. Eldrie is an expert herbal healer but that art has limits with which Eldrie is quite frustrated. Magic would no doubt be more effective.
If healing mages exist, they are extremely rare. Eldrie has never met one, nor has she ever met anyone who has met one. Nevertheless, she persists, with faithful Huard following.
The quest is long. Eldrie feels certain physical needs and turns to Huard to serve them. Eldrie assures herself many times that she is merely having a fling of no deep significance. Finally, the pair stumbles upon the remote home of a true healing mage, Mennefer. A number of unpleasant revelations follow:
- Healing magic requires a knack. While Mennefer can sense great power in Eldrie, it is not healing magic.
- Huard took Eldrie at her word that their affair was of no deep significance. To Eldrie’s considerable annoyance, Huard and Mennefer become doting lovers.
- Eldrie may be done with the court of Maritiene. That does not mean the court is done with Eldrie.
This was a chance find in a used book store. The Elmore cover led me to think it was a Baen book, but it was actually published by a company called Pageant Books, about which I know little.
This is the sort of fantasy in which royalty can have genuine special powers. Eldrie’s main gift appears to be that she can serve as a sort of a living battery for magic users; she also has enough charisma to attract followers without trying. However, special royal gifts don’t appear to be bundled with any particular suitability for governing. Towards the end of the book the reader learns that Prince Jovian, the “downright mean, a real demon’s‑child” heir to Maritiene’s throne, has died in an accident. Nobody seems upset by this, which makes me wonder how much of an accident it really was.
Eldrie does many things well — healing, riding, swordplay — but making sensible life choices is not among them. This is clear as soon as the book opens, when the reader learns that Eldrie thought the road to riches lay in a nearly depopulated nation whose inhabitants are busy murdering each other. In fact, she combines a thin skin with a talent for lying to herself. This combination of skills and bad judgment is a recipe for adventure, because it guarantees that Eldrie will make poor decisions, but also that she will survive them.
This was supposed to be the beginning of a new series but in fact this was her final novel (even though Edwards lived for another twenty years). There are many reasons why this might have come to pass, but which reasons were truly at fault is unclear1.
Alas, if this novel is any guide, Pageant might not have had to bungle the marketing to torpedo the series. The prose is merely adequate. While there are many diverting moments — not least Eldrie’s fury at Huard taking Eldrie at her word that he was but a convenience — the plot meanders. The pacing is also problematic; the book ambles along and then ends abruptly. I suppose the sudden ending would not have been an issue if the trilogy had been completed but it wasn’t. Ah, well.
Eldrie the Healer is out of print.
1: This Goodreads commenter asserts that Edwards’ publisher was acquired and stopped talking to her, which would explain the lack of follow-up (orphaned series are hard to sell, particularly if one cannot secure reversion for the first book). However, the same Goodreads thread has claims that are appear to be counterfactual (that the issue was the author’s death, when she lived on for decades after this novel was published) so without more proof, I have to say I am not sure why this series and the author’s career came to an abrupt halt.