Elisha Barber (Dark Apostle)
by E.C. Ambrose
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen
Review by Drew Bittner
DAW Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756408350
Date: 02 July 2013 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In the 1370s, burning a witch was how things were done. For a boy named Elisha, it was a moment that changed his life forever.
Elisha Barber is the tale of that boy, grown to manhood and trained as a barber (which, in those days, meant not only a cutter of hair but also basically a paramedic). Called too late to a medical emergency, things go horribly wrong for Elisha, leaving him with a crippling burden of guilt and a token of his failure. Because he will not confide the details of what transpired, he is assumed guilty of murder and sentenced to serve a physician on the front lines of a war between the king and a duke.
At the front, Elisha proves remarkably successful with his treatments--far more so than the suspicious and hostile physician Lucius--and earns great popularity with the troops for his compassionate manner; the better-trained medical men work almost exclusively on the knights and nobles. When the physician, along with his surgeon-lackeys Benedict and Matthew, learns that Elisha is a far better healer than he, he starts to look for reasons to punish him.
Elisha's only solace lies in meeting Brigit, who seems oddly familiar and discovering his untapped potential. He quickly realizes that he is in a race against time, to master strange new capabilities before Lucius and his cronies find an excuse to destroy him. Everything depends on Elisha finding a way to master a source of power he created unwittingly; if he can't, that power will fall into unworthy hands and perhaps destroy England itself, in pursuit of an impossible dream.
E.C. Ambrose has crafted an ambitious, rousing alternate historical fantasy in this work, the first in The Dark Apostle series. Elisha is a serious and capable young man, held back primarily by his lack of status and lack of formal education--his inability to read, in fact, twice serves as an important point in the story. His dawning awareness of his potential and the terrible prices he must pay in body and soul for that knowledge makes for gripping reading.
Ambrose has not neglected the rest of the characters, however. Brigit, a young and beautiful woman whose station is well above Elisha's, is no less bound by social constraints than the barber, though she finds clever ways around those boundaries. Ruari (a soldier/carpenter) and Lisbet (a village girl), his apprentices, begin as simple but willing helpers, growing into key allies over the course of the story. And of course, there are the villains, with Lucius foremost as a coldly clinical academic whose theory of treatment is far more important than its reality, and whose assistants are mostly hostile to Elisha. There are other, greater villains in store, but we'll hold back from describing them lest we venture into spoiler territory.
It's a terrific debut for this new series. We look forward to Elisha's ongoing tale.