The Healers/Balance Academy series takes place in a fantasy world where magic has always existed, to the point where it is considered no more fantastical than engineering or ballet: a difficult skill that many learn, based on a number of competing philosophies or traditions. The Academy of the Divine Balance is one such institution of magic, training magical healers as well as priests and temple guards to staff its pantheist shrines.
The three books so far follow the story of Agna Despana, a recent healing-magic graduate of the Academy, the scion of an influential art-dealing family, and a general know-it-all who is wildly out of her depth when the story begins.
The series maintains a personal scope, focusing closely on character development and on relationships of various kinds. It happens to dovetail in some ways with the cozy fantasy movement (though not in others), taking time to unpack the characters’ journeys and lives.
On purchasing options: As of November 2023, I’m giving Kindle Unlimited another shot. This means that this series will be available free to KU subscribers and paid on Amazon as always, and not available anywhere else as an ebook. (i.e. I’m taking the Gumroad copy down for a bit.) I’ve got plenty of issues with Amazon, don’t get me wrong; this is just a test to see how this works for a while. The terms on KU are three months at a time, so I’ll reassess in February.
Agna’s Story 1: The Healers’ Road
Agna had looked forward to her overseas assignment for the last four years. It was just a side project on the way to taking over her father’s art agency, of course, but she eagerly awaited the opportunity to use her education and prove that studying to be a magical healer had been worthwhile.
Keifon never wanted to leave home. His choice was bleak: ship himself overseas, or be shut out by the man he loved. But he followed the gods’ will. He only wanted to spend some time alone, make himself useful to the foreigners as a medic, and make up for the things he’d done.
Two strangers, two years, one mission: Travel the back roads of an unfamiliar country and heal those who need to be healed. Including, perhaps, themselves.
Published: Nov. 2014
Agna’s Story 2: The Healers’ Home
Wildern is a town on the cusp: poised on the border, with a new hospital bringing in talent from around the world.
Agna thinks it’s ripe for some more culture. She launches her plan to open her own art gallery, putting off her family’s pleas to come home and join the family business. A new mentor seems to suggest that her talents are better spent as a healer, but why else did she come to town?
Keifon becomes a doctor’s apprentice, hoping to settle into a quiet new life, even though he suspects that such dreams are out of his reach. And why is he finding it so hard to move out of Agna’s house and reach for the life that he’s always said he wanted?
A new improvement project will bring an old friend to this growing border town, and test the healers’ loyalties. The past won’t let go, and the future won’t wait…
Published: Oct. 2016
Agna’s Story 3: The Healers’ Purpose
When the Academy sends a new batch of healers into the field, Agna finds herself in an unexpected position of authority, on top of managing her new art gallery. She jumps at the chance to prove that she deserved to escape her father’s shadow. As her colleagues begin to fall victim to an unexplained loss of healing power, it starts to seem like too much for one healer to handle alone.
Keifon’s new life seems like more than he’d dared to wish for: friends, security, a chance to advance his career as a doctor. He has also confessed his feelings to his dearest friend, or so he thinks. But while he waits for her reply, his life continues on a path he never foresaw, and he begins to find new sides to his calling.
The city takes in its new transplants and offers opportunities, but not without a cost. Now that the friends — or perhaps partners — have found a place for themselves, they may find themselves doubting their direction.
Published: Aug. 2022
…But is it cozy?
Officially, no! Sorry. The first book was released in 2014, several years before cozy fantasy was created as a genre. It was inspired by LeGuin’s Tehanu, the character-driven focus of the romance genre, and iyashikei anime, not genre source Legends and Lattes (which didn’t exist at the time). It is not recommended by the cozyfantasy subreddit’s official list. Several reviewers have commented that it’s too dark to qualify as cozy. In short, it’s off the table if you are strictly looking for cozy fantasy.
It does have some elements in common with the genre — there’s so much tea-drinking that one of the beta readers recommended I scale it back, and there is no evil overlord threatening to blow up the moon — but ultimately, it’s not cozy. It’s slice of life.
What’s the difference?
Slice of life existed before 2022 and has a broader definition.
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition. Mine is: Stories at an individual scale that feature everyday challenges and concerns. SoL can feature ups and downs and more emotional intensity than cozy. People can make mistakes. Things can be hard. But there’s no Big Bad, and the world isn’t ending. Technically, it doesn’t have to have a happy ending, though mine probably always will.
So there’s a lot of tea and ride-or-die friendship, but it may not be the story you’re looking for. Please heed the content warnings above, read reviews first, and take care of yourselves.