In another world, some humans stand out from others – they all have some sort of deformity (which is why they’re called Tesques, short for Grotesques) as well as an extra opening in their body. A minority of them also have a healing ability, which allows them to draw out the sickness from a human body and turn it into a physical “concretion” which is expelled through that opening.

Unfortunately Tesques have no rights to speak of, and healers are treated as no more than valuable slaves. They have no say in how their gift is used, and most are drained in less than 10 years.

The book is the life story of one such healer called Payne. Unlike most healers, Payne doesn’t seem to be affected by the Drain, and he manages to complete more complex healings than most of them. He is young, overconfident, and tries to do the impossible: to heal the Drain of another healer. The healing goes wrong, leaving the other healer in a worse state than before. Nevertheless both survive, which is enough to make Payne into a bit of a legend.

He starts out an idealist, as most young people do, wanting to help humans, caring for them. But as he is excluded from their communities – even a church in which he invests a lot of his energy – his optimism wanes, his alienation grows and slowly turns into rebellion.

This was a strange book: distant and dreamy. Payne remains distant from both his world and from the reader. There is no real engagement, and hardly any emotions. The story is a seemingly random selection of episodes from Payne’s life, with no clear overall path. Neither the external events nor Payne’s personal development have any clear direction. At the end, rather unexpectedly, the story turns into myth. This doesn’t fit the preceding 95% of the book at all, but somehow it still works quite well. Perhaps it’s just because I like myths, powerful in their unreality.

But taken as a whole, the book was an interesting and satisfying reading experience. Well-written, and distinctive enough to be worth reading.

Here’s the review at SF Site that made me want to read this book. I agree with just about everything in that review except their opinion of the ending.

Amazon US, Amazon UK.