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Elisha Barber
by E.C. Ambrose

This historical fantasy novel is set in an alternate version of 14th century England and concerns Elisha, a barber-surgeon who, after a serious family tragedy, is dragged to war to treat wounded soldiers. There he discovers that he is a magus or witch, one who has magical powers. He also falls in an ill-fated love with Brigit, a mysterious fellow magus. It's a very gritty story that pulls few punches when it comes to medieval medicine.
Elisha Barber started out unremarkably but became fairly compelling once the plot got going. Ambrose created a cast of interesting characters with varying motivations and principles. I also found the way the magic worked to be pretty interesting. Plus, Elisha's climactic working of magic was a terrific set piece. However, the setting really, really did not work for me. This is all supposed to take place in an alternate medieval England, but the alternate history made no sense. As far as I could tell, neither the king and nobles nor the war were based on real people or events, so it was impossible to tell how Ambrose has changed or branched off from history. There were also some things that didn't quite match up with what I know of the 14th century. I think this story would have worked much better as a secondary world fantasy where the world closely resembles 14th century England.
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