HEALER’S SWORD by Lynda Williams

Healer’s Sword by Lynda Williams is the seventh book in her impressive Okal Rel decalogy. Although the Okal Rel universe (ORU) is a complex one with enough laws and customs to dazzle an Earth sociologist, each novel in the series stands alone on its own merits. If you’re not yet familiar with the world of Okal Rel, Healer’s Sword is a great way to get your first taste of Williams’s universe.

Healer’s Sword by Lynda Williams is the seventh book in her impressive Okal Rel decalogy. Although the Okal Rel universe (ORU) is a complex one with enough laws and customs to dazzle an Earth sociologist, each novel in the series stands alone on its own merits. If you’re not yet familiar with the world of Okal Rel, Healer’s Sword is a great way to get your first taste of Williams’s universe.

The Okal Rel universe is a world where the most glorified virtues are nobility and planetary peace. ORU springs out of Earth’s not-too-distant future, a future marred by grievous ruin and destruction. The invention of intergalactic travel was followed by the discovery that entire planets could be blasted to bits if the pilots of the faster-than-light Reality Skimming ships rephased their vessels inside planets. This was initially used as a weapon of war, destroying highly valued planets and their populations in the process.

As a result, an entire culture evolved to abhor any act that may destroy a planet or break an oath. The most heinous of crimes is to kill in such a way that you cannot look the person (or people) you are killing in the eyes when they die. Projectile weapons are absolutely forbidden; the use of a weapon such as a gun is anathema even to the most unscrupulous of the highborn, and even pirates and criminals are unlikely to have access to such weaponry. People are strongly encouraged to obey codes of honour and fulfill their duties, as duels are the common way to settle disputes.

Healer’s Sword opens with the wide and sweeping excitement of a classical fantasy novel and then becomes a science fiction story. A spectacle plays out in a tea house in a far off reach of the galaxy. Ilse, the heroine, is unwinding after sword practice — and enjoying the reactions of those around her who are impressed by the spectacle of a woman bucking the social order and using weaponry — when a prince is brought into the meeting place for emergency assistance.

ORU is populated with several alien civilizations. Although they are all hominid in appearance, Williams proudly carries on the tradition of an array of alien species so iconic and beloved by sci fi fans. The races are thoroughly explored and explained throughout the decalogy, but it’s not necessary to be versed in the details to find your way initially among the Nesaks and the Demish.

Ilse is a Blue Demish lady. The Demish culture is very conservative with an intense sense of social order where women are expected to fill traditional female roles. The Demish are fiercely patriotic to their bloodline and have a passion for history. They are an ancient civilization that loves antiquities — something that is “only” four hundred years old is considered worthless. The Demish find a great deal of solace in the axiom that “the exception proves the rule.” They delight in being perceived as tolerant of the occasional woman who breaks the social norms and becomes a fighter or an industrialist. The seaminess of such behaviours makes the rest of the Blue Demish look not just good but great by comparison.

The driving force of Healer’s Sword is dichotomy. One of the central figures of ORU is a great prince named Amel. He was stolen as a baby from his mother’s arms and did what he had to do to survive and became a courtesan. While he was an impoverished child, he had a foster sister named Mira. Amel loved Mira deeply but when he was raised from his position as a commoner, there was a wedge driven between the two of them.

Commoners are not simply a lower social stratum in ORU; they are also physically far less capable and die much younger than the ruling class. When Amel’s true identity was revealed, Mira had to come to terms with the fact that the boy she had grown up with was essentially from a more advanced species than she herself could ever dream to be. Mira became a gifted healer but she refused Amel’s offers to come to court to work for him and preserved her sense of pride. She still loved Amel deeply but a schism had opened up between them that could not be healed. Mira is the unwilling antagonist not only to Amel but also to Ilse.

Ilse comes from a rival household to Amel’s, and Mira is caught in the crossfire of this feud from the opening pages of the novel when Ilse attacks Mira first verbally and then physically due to her connection to Amel. The situation quickly devolves until a prince intercedes on Mira’s behalf and Ilse and the prince’s gifted swordsman duel. Ilse is wounded deeply on her inner thigh and it is only through Mira’s skill that she survives the arterial wounding.

Such is life in ORU. Enemies are rarely all they seem and in many cases their help is required more than that of allies. The dichotomy of ORU is that honour is everything in a world where it seems that everyone is surrounded by enemies and backstabbers. Friendships are few and far between as people jostle and scheme to improve their positions in court and consolidate their power in the galaxy.

Many of the situations depicted in ORU are easy to relate to no matter what universe you call home. The classical communication problems and other struggles between men and women are succinctly summed up: “Her next thought consigned all men to the endless limbo of the void, denied rebirth by the howling souls of all women they had wronged with their fickle heart.” In one sentence, Williams has expressed the surge of anger every woman has felt from time to time since Lilith met Adam.

If you are a bold and daring explorer of science fiction, then ORU is a universe that you will want to explore for yourself. Once you get a look into Williams’s corner of the galaxy, I guarantee that you will want to see more.


Michelle Carraway is an avid reader and writer from Fraser Lake, British Columbia. She has been an editor and contributor to the online publication Electric Inc and a contributor to the Reality Skimming blog hosted by Okal Rel author Lynda Williams.

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