13 October 2011

The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Nya is an orphan struggling for survival in a city crippled by war. She is also a Taker—with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike her sister, Tali, and the other Takers who become Healers' League apprentices, Nya's skill is flawed: She can't push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it into another person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden from forces occupying her city. If discovered, she'd be used as a human weapon against her own people.

Rumors of another war make Nya's life harder, forcing her to take desperate risks just to find work and food. She pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. At first Nya refuses, but when Tali and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, she's faced with some difficult choices. As her father used to say, principles are a bargain at any price; but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

This book is for "ages 10 and up" and your first thought might be, "Oh, this is a middle grade novel.  Psh."  Well, if your definition of a middle grade novel means that there is no swearing, no hot and heavy sex scenes, and no vampires lusting after someone's blood, then yes, this is a middle grade novel.  But if you're one for quality books with likable characters, a fast-paced and engaging plot set in a fascinating world, then this is the book you want.

Nya is a girl I could steal chicken eggs with, no problem.  She's one of those awkward teen girls who can't seem to keep their mouth shut and gets a little shove from fate.  Nya's emotional journey was really intense, and I lived it right along with her.  I LOVED how Hardy did not go easy on Nya.  That girl went through hell and came out by pulling herself up by her own bootstraps (with some help from her friends).

I think readers, and writers alike, should take note of what Janice Hardy has pulled off: Nya was conflicted and complex.  She wasn't a saint, nor a heartless scoundrel.  She was just a girl who really didn't set out to be the "voice of the voiceless" but that's the direction fate shoved her in, but for a price.  She did bad things and I loved that.  Finding a main character who didn't make all the right moves was refreshing, and really attached me to this story because this book wasn't depressing—it was heart wrenching and inspiring.

"Punctual as well as smart," Zertanik said as the clock tower chimed midnight.  He held the door open for me and I walked past him, leaving my conscience on the porch.  It curled up next to my principles.

Excerpted from the hardcover edition, page 190

Nya was also funny and self-deprecating, which is always a bonus.  And her friends were awesome ones—they all came with their faults without taking over the spotlight.

The plot was brilliant. Hardy did an excellent job of presenting the information you needed to know, and didn't bog you down with backstory and elaborate description. I had no problem keeping up while still remaining completely engaged.  The "bad side of healing" was a fascinating idea—one that Hardy executed magnificently.  The world was also excellently portrayed—right up there with Tamora Pierce and Cinda Williams Chima.

The second book, Blue Fire, continues Nya's journey as she goes up against the Duke and his best trackers.  WOOT.  Can't wait to get it.  I'm thinking (and hoping) that the series will continue to deepen and mature as Nya experiences more and more and gets a little older.

To writers:  Janice Hardy has a GREAT blog for writers—one that I have been cheerfully stalking the past week or so after a friend referred me to it.  I think her blog is helping me so much right now, she might end up going in my acknowledgements, even if I never get to actually meet the gal.  So go check it out: The Other Side of the Story

Book Info:

  • pages – hardcover, 370
  • published – October 2009
  • publisher – HarperCollins
  • genre – fantasy
  • received via – public library
  • rating – 5/5
  • series – The Healing Wars trilogy
    • The Shifter
    • Blue Fire
    • Darkfall
  • Add it on Goodreads
  • status – purchased through Amazon