As a young fantasy enthusiast, Beth Cato found it troubling that those gifted with the power to save lives—the healers—were often designated as sidekicks and background characters. When she wrote The Clockwork Dagger, she decided to fix the problem and give a medic center stage. Here, Cato shares the inspiration behind having a healer as her main character.
Healers are a vital part of the fantasy genre. If you’re playing Final Fantasy or any other role-playing game, you better have a white mage or cleric in your party… or a masochistic streak. If you read urban fantasy, the protagonists almost always have a skeevy doctor they can turn to for first aid. Someone has to keep the hero alive, after all.
Heck, if you cross the genre border to Star Trek, you have Leonard “Bones” McCoy and Doctor Crusher. Redshirts are known for their quick life span, but the whole crew would be in red shirts if not for sick bay.
However, these characters, as important as they are, are still designated sidekicks. They follow orders. They deliver medicinal herbs and snark. Then they fade into the background until they are needed again. If the hero has some curative or regenerative powers, it’s just a small, convenient part of their demigod prize pack.
This always bugged me. Why couldn’t a healer be the main hero? In my own imagination, I am never the sidekick!
See, when I was 11, my grandpa died of a terminal illness. A few months after that, I fell in love withFinal Fantasy II for Super Nintendo. The idea of healing magic absolutely captivated me. It became the superpower I dreamed about at night. I scribbled about healer heroines in short stories that no one else ever saw. It’s the class I always played in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
Through my teenage years, I gobbled up fantasy books. I played as many games as I could. I never found a leading heroine who was a healer—quite the opposite. In video games, the white magic class is physically weak. They need to stay in the back row in battle, or one smack from a boss will splatter their pixels. Their portrayal in books isn’t much better. The doctor is a plot device, and might be a full pacifist or otherwise handicapped in a bad scrap. Translation: This character archetype is useful but kinda wimpy too.
Life stopped me from reading or writing fantasy for about 10 years. When I took it up again, the old dreams and wistfulness were still there. I wanted a heroine who was a healer. Since I still couldn’t find one in literature, I decided it was time to fill the vacancy myself.
The result is my heroine: Octavia Leander. At age 22, she’s setting out to make her own way in the world as a healer—a medician, as I dub them—and as an independent businesswoman. She’s spent much of the past decade working the wards of a frontline army hospital. She has full confidence in saving a man in septic shock, but is terrified as she prepares to take an airship journey by herself for the first time.
I wanted a heroine whose strength is a more pivotal physical descriptor than her prettiness. Octavia is strong, a farm girl. She can haul a comatose man or a suckling foal.
Since she served on the front lines of battle, I wanted her to be close in spirit to modern-day corpsman. She’ll do whatever is necessary to keep herself and her friends alive. If she must fire a gun in her defense, she’ll rush to heal the culprit afterward.
Octavia is the literary heroine I had hoped to find from age twelve. The Clockwork Dagger is her story, and she would never settle for being a sidekick.
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair outside of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.