Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nick O' Donohoe

The Magic and the Healing
by Nick O'Donohoe
Recommended Age: Age: 15+

The author of this book was at a late-night party with colleagues of his wife - a veterinary student - when an emergency call came in. A bear cub had been hit by a car and needed immediate surgery. O'Donohoe tagged along as the vets, unable to look up the proper anaethesia for bear cubs because the library was closed, improvised on the principle "Let's pretend it's a big, fat, mean dog." Out of nowhere the idea struck O'Donohoe: If they can do that with bear cubs, vets could treat unicorns!

And so came the inspiration for this exciting, unusual, and... well, inspirational book. In it four last-year veterinary students accept a mysterious fieldwork assignment in a place that can only be reached with the aid of a very special map, called The Book of Strangeways. And for medical reference they have little to guide them except Lao's Guide to Nonbiological Species. So when BJ Vaughan's first-day presentation has to do with grafting the horn back onto a unicorn, she says: "Let's pretend it's either a small horse or a large goat."

No Dorothy, they aren't in Kansas, and nor are they in western Virginia, though it's only a short drive from there. They are in a magical world called Crossroads, which welcomes creatures and beings from all other worlds, so long as they help each other as needed. A lot of the creatures in Crossroads are too magical to thrive anywhere else: harmless creatures such as unicorns, satyrs, brownies, and fauns, as well as dangerous creatures like griffins, rocs, centaurs, and (gulp) werewolves.

Unfortunately Crossroads is at a bit of a crossroads these days. One reason so much veterinary help is needed is that a force of evil is encroaching on the land, manipulated by a charimatic psychopath named Morgan. She is building and training an army that could bring back the worst days of Crossroads' history, when Roman invaders emptied the world of its inhabitants. She has a strange power over creatures that no one has been able to tame before. And, of special concern, she has a traitor from BJ's world on her side.

While BJ and her friends only slowly grow aware of the dangers and mysteries of Crossroads, BJ herself is coming to terms with a terrible decision forced on her by a genetic disease that promises nothing short of a long, horrible death. At the risk of spoiling the book, this will probably be the first fantasy adventure you read in which the main character goes through it all in the certain knowledge that, in the end, she is going to commit suicide. The question is now: Can you handle that? Or perhaps, can BJ handle the surprises Crossroads has in store for her at a point in her life when any new experience must seem like a gift?

After reading this book, I found out that it was the beginning of a trilogy. The other two books are Under the Healing Sign and The Healing of Crossroads. I found used copies of both books and am enjoying them now. If "care of magical creatures" is your favorite subject, or if you are interested in fantasy and medicine, you must get hold of this trilogy!

Under the Healing Sign
by Nick O'Donohoe
Recommended Age: 15+

In the sequel to The Magic and the Healing, BJ Vaughan has graduated from veterinary school and started her first practice... in the magical world of Crossroads. There she swiftly gathers experience in treating centaurs, unicorns, and other magical creatures. She has nothing else to do; BJ soon learns that leaving Crossroads means more than losing touch with the magic that keeps her Huntington's disease at bay. Each time she goes back to her own world, the world of Virginia and Chicago, the disease picks up where it left off and begins killing her faster than ever. This calls for another hard decision for BJ - especially hard with her friends, family, and even the faun that she loves living in a world where she cannot stay.

Meanwhile, even though the evil warlord (warlady?) Morgan has been driven out of Crossroads, trouble continues to brew.

A race of unclean, uncouth, firebreathing klutzes - a chaos of chimerae - flies into town for their wantonly destructive mating season. A would-be witch begins to meddle with the climate - disrupting the migratory patterns of several creatures - and, even worse, applies herself to the magic of opening and closing strangeways, the roads between Crossroads and other worlds. A dominance struggle among the Wyr (think "werewolves") results in BJ becoming surrogate mother to a carnivorous pup. Creatures needed for the defense of Crossroads are threatened. Creatures who should be extinct make an annoying entrance. Everyone from the ruminating deer people to the snaggle-toothed Meat People (who are surprisingly gentle, actually) senses another rising threat of invasion and war - and this time, they have to be prepared to lose. And how do they prepare? By emptying Crossroads of all its inhabitants.

BJ works herself to the bone, treating the casualties of Morgan's slowly escalating attacks, while also helping Brandal the king, Stein the general, and that walker-between-worlds himself Mr. Fields, to guide one race after another to worlds where they can live in safety. So it is a book full of achingly sad farewells, spiced up by an occasional outbreak of violence and death. The menace builds, along with the vendetta between a young veterinarian who has nowhere else to go and a vicious psychopath who is only happy while washing her hands in blood.

If you're looking for a book whose danger-charged atmosphere makes you squirm, a book that beguiles you with a sense of an inevitable yet mysterious outcome waiting to be unleashed, a book full of frustrated romance, tragic conflicts, creepy portents, and eye-popping magic, look no further than Under the Healing Sign, the second book in a trilogy that concludes with The Healing of Crossroads.

EDIT: Mr. O'Donohoe has also written several other books, whose titles include Too, Too Solid Flesh; The Gromenwrench in the Dwarfworks; and The Gromenwrench in the Peopleworks - the latter two having to do with "little people" doing their part for America in World War II.

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