The Shifter (Healing Wars Series #1)

( 59 )


A dangerous secret. A deadly skill.

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, 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 ...

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The Shifter (Healing Wars Series #1)

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A dangerous secret. A deadly skill.

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, 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. If discovered, she could be used as a human weapon.

But one day Nya pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. She refuses—until Tali and other League Healers start disappearing mysteriously. Now Nya must decide: How far will she go to get Tali back alive?

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Editorial Reviews

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The headstrong Nya and the innovative premise...keep readers turning the pages.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
The headstrong Nya and the innovative premise...keep readers turning the pages.
The Horn Book
Nya’s distinctive first-person voice, strongly personable with a wry sense of humor, draws readers in…[the] hard-charging plot makes the pages fly by...Would you save someone’s life at the cost of unbearable pain to someone else?[Readers] will eagerly await the next volume of the Healing Wars.
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books
The headstrong Nya and the innovative premise...keep readers turning the pages.
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The headstrong Nya and the innovative premise...keep readers turning the pages.
Children's Literature - Jeanna Sciarrotta
Fifteen year old Nya struggles to find both food and work in her war torn city of Varlatta, where all is not always as it seems. She also struggles to keep hidden a secret that if heard by the wrong ears, could put her in terrible danger. Nya is a "Taker," like many of the other young people in the city. However, unlike the others, who take pain away from the suffering and deposit it—Nya can only shift the pain from one person to another—a skill that the enemy forces would find very useful. Street smart Nya knows that she would be used as a weapon if they ever got their hands on her. In Book One of Janice Hardy's new series, The Healing Wars, she has created a world where healing is the main power source and it is not always put to the best use. The concept itself is intriguing and though the story is slow to develop at times and the reader is left feeling that many aspects of the storyline are revealed too late in the game, the character of Nya will captivate readers as they follow along on her adventure to save her younger sister and ultimately her city. This book will find a home on the shelves of many middle school classrooms and libraries. Reviewer: Jeanna Sciarrotta
School Library Journal
Gr 8–10—In this first book in a planned trilogy, 15-year-old Nya and her younger sister, Tali, who were orphaned during the recent war that nearly destroyed their city, both have the gift of healing. Unlike Tali, though, Nya can't harmlessly shift the pain she takes from the sick and wounded into enchanted pynvium metal. Instead, she must shift it from person to person, a dangerous talent that she keeps hidden from the ruling Baseeri and from the Healer's League where Tali is an apprentice. Scrounging to make ends meet, Nya resorts to odd jobs and the occasional theft to stay alive. When a young soldier discovers her secret and implores her to save his dying father, Nya is forced to choose between protecting herself and acknowledging her ability to save others and perhaps her entire city. First-time author Hardy has written an inventive coming-of-age tale about a likable young woman whom readers will cheer throughout her exploits. Her appealing narration chronicles her expanding worldview as she progresses from a self-interested survivalist to a reluctant heroine to a determined rebel. Fantasy fans and those who just love a good story will enjoy this fast-paced novel and eagerly await book two.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD
Kirkus Reviews
A teen with the power to shift pain from one person to another chooses between saving her sister's life and her principles in this first of a projected series. Orphaned when the Baseer invade and occupy Geveg, 15-year-old Nya and her sister Tali live in an oppressed world where pain is controlled by a Healer's League that trains "Takers" to transfer human pain into a substance called pynvium. The League charges to remove pain, pain merchants buy pain to enchant weapons and anyone able to "shift" pain is subject to "death, prison, maybe even experiments." Nya suppresses her shifting power until Tali and other League apprentices mysteriously disappear and a pain merchant threatens to make her a pawn in his plot to subvert Geveg. In the tradition of strong-willed adventure heroines, Nya rallies, unleashing her powers as she faces complex moral dilemmas. Her first-person narration is suffused with the agony of deciding who will live or die. Timely ethical exploration in the guise of high-action fantasy. (Fantasy. 10-16)\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061747083
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/31/2010
  • Series: Healing Wars Series, #1
  • Pages: 370
  • Sales rank: 266,530
  • Age range: 10 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy is also the author of The Shifter and Blue Fire, the first two books in the Healing Wars trilogy. She lives in Georgia with her husband, four cats, and one nervous freshwater eel.

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Read an Excerpt

The Healing Wars, Book One: The Shifter

Chapter One

Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken. With chickens, you just grab a hen, stuff her in a sack and, make your escape. But for eggs, you have to stick your hand under a sleeping chicken. Chickens don't like this. They wake all spooked and start pecking holes in your arm, or your face, if it's close. And they squawk something terrible.

The trick is to wake the chicken first, then go for the eggs. I'm embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure this out.

"Good morning little hen," I sang softly. The chicken blinked awake and cocked her head at me. She didn't get to squawking, just flapped her wings a bit as I lifted her off the nest, and she'd settle down once I tucked her under my arm. I'd overheard that trick from a couple of boys I'd unloaded fish with last week.

A voice came from beside me. "Don't move."

Two words I didn't want to hear with someone else's chicken under my arm.

I froze. The chicken didn't. Her scaly feet flailed toward the eggs that should have been my breakfast. I looked up at a cute night guard not much older than me, perhaps sixteen. The night was more humid than usual, but a slight breeze blew his sand-pale hair. A soldier's cut, but a month or two grown out.

Stay calm, stay alert. As Grannyma used to say, if you're caught with the cake, you might as well offer them a piece. Not sure how that applied to chickens, though.

"Join me for breakfast when your shift ends?" I asked. Sunrise was two hours away. He smiled but aimed his rapier at my chest anyway. Was nice to have a handsome boy smile at me inthe moonlight, but his was a sad, sorry-only-doing-my-job smile. I'd learned to tell the difference between smiles a lot faster than I'd figured out the egg thing.

"So, Heclar," he said over his shoulder, "you do have a thief. Guess I was wrong."

Rancher Heclar strutted into view, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the chicken trying to peck me-ruffled, sharp beaked, and beady eyed. He harrumphed and set his fists against his hips. "I told you crocodiles weren't getting them."

"I'm no chicken thief," I said quickly.

"Then what's that?" The night guard flicked his rapier tip toward the chicken and smiled again. Friendlier this time, but his deep brown eyes had twitched when he bent his wrist.

"A chicken." I blew a stray feather off my chin and peered closer. His knuckles were white from too tight a grip on so light a weapon. That had to mean joint pain, maybe even knuckleburn, though he wasn't old enough for it. The painful joint infection usually hit older dockworkers. I guess that's why he had a crummy job guarding chickens instead of aristocrats. My luck hadn't been that great either.

"Look," I said, "I wasn't going to steal her. She was blocking the eggs."

The night guard nodded like he understood and turned to Heclar. "She's just hungry. Maybe you could let her go with a warning?"

"Arrest her, you idiot! She'll get fed in Dorsta."

Dorsta? I gulped. "Listen, two eggs for breakfast is hardly worth prison-"

"Thieves belong in prison!"

I jerked back and my foot squished into chicken crap. Lots of it. It dripped out from every coop in the row. There had to be at least sixty filthy coops along the lakeside half of the isle alone. "I'll work off the eggs. What about two eggs for every row of coops I clean?"

"You'll only steal three."

"Not if he watches me." I tipped my head at the night guard. I could handle the smell if I had cute company while I worked. He might even get extra pay out of it, which could earn me some goodwill if we ever bumped into each other in the early-morning moonlight again. "How about one egg per row?"

The night guard pursed his lips and nodded. "Pretty good deal there."

"Arrest her already!"

I heaved the chicken. She squawked, flapping and scratching in a panic. The night guard yelped and dropped the rapier. I ran like hell.

"Stop! Thief!"

Self-righteous ranchers I could outrun, even on their own property, but the night guard? His hands might be bad, but his feet-and reflexes-worked just fine.

I rounded a stack of broken coops an arm-swipe faster than he did. Without slowing, I dodged left, cutting up a corn-littered row of coops running parallel to Farm-Market Canal. It gained me a few paces but he had the reach on my short legs. No chance of outrunning him on a straightaway.

Swerving right, I yanked an empty market crate off one of the coops. It clattered to the ground between me and the night guard.

"Aah!" A thud and a crack, followed by impressive swearing.

I risked a glance behind. Broken crate pieces lay scattered across the row. The night guard limped a little, but it hadn't slowed him much. I'd gained only another few paces.

The row split ahead, cutting through the waist-high coops like the canals that crisscrossed Geveg. I veered left toward Farm-Market Bridge, my side throbbing hard. Forget making it off the isle. I wasn't going to make it off the ranch.

More market crates blocked the row a dozen paces from the bridge. The crates were knee high and a pace wide, with tendrils of loose, twisted wire sticking up like lakeweed. Didn't Heclar ever clean his property? I cleared the crates a step before the night guard. His fingers raked the back of my shirt and snagged the hem. I stumbled, arms flailing, reaching for anything to stop my fall.

The ground did it for me.

I sucked back the breath I'd lost and inhaled a lungful of dust and feathers. The night guard crashed over the crates a choking gasp later and hit the ground beside me. Dried corn flew out of the crate and speckled the ground.

I hacked up grime while he swore and grabbed his leg. He'd left a pretty good chunk of his shin on one of the crates, and his bent ankle looked sprained for sure, maybe broken.

He glanced at me and chuckled wryly. "Just go."

I dragged myself upright, but didn't run. He'd lose his job over me, and I'd guess he didn't have many options left if he was working for a cheap like Heclar. I knelt and grabbed his hands, my thumbs tight against his knuckles, and drew....

The Healing Wars, Book One: The Shifter. Copyright (c) by Janice Hardy . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.\
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 59 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 59 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A fun, original fantasy

    There is no question that this is a fast-paced, fun novel with an original fantasy that incorporates well both the light and dark sides of the magic. Personally, I'm always a fan of original fantasies that are done well. Specifically, that means that the fantasy itself has never been done before, the world itself is unique, and the magic must be explained properly with the proper guidance and rules. Like anything in nature, magic will also follow a set of organic guidelines or it won't really make sense to the reader.

    Hardy has given us all the necessary elements for a good original fantasy. The rules are clear, the characters themselves must choose between the evil and good sides of what the magic is capable of, and the world itself is unique to the type of fantasy she's exploring. However, although I did enjoy it, I have a few qualms about the story overall. First, there is a lot of willing suspension of disbelief in regards to what the characters are able to accomplish.

    Also, Hardy sets us up for a second book, but the set up is a bit trite and cheesy. I'm not sure we really needed the set up to be so obvious. Nya is going to take on the Duke all alone, which is unfortunate that she has such a clear vendetta. I think it would be more interesting if we were to find Nya and Tali in hiding at the beginning of the next book and watch as they have to navigate a myriad of difficult circumstances as they continue to explore the original world that Hardy has created.

    Lastly, and this is my biggest gripe, it's difficult to figure out what the world looks like, not just the specific scenes that Nya finds herself in, but the world as a whole. I have a hard time picturing the landscape, the geography and layout of the land. I can't seem to imagine how the buildings appear or the relative size of the city. Also, would it be so hard to hire an artist to recreate the world on a map? That seems like a pretty standard thing to do with original fantasy worlds and stories.

    However, despite some of the flaws, I really enjoyed this new fantasy that delves into the prospect of using healing powers for evil or good. I recommend this book to all readers 11+.

    This is the first in the series, so far, and I look forward to the rest of the books.

    -Lindsey Miller,

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Lightweight reading with a weighty moral message: an unusual and unique piece of middle grade fiction that, while corny, is sure to please its target audience

    Originally reviewed and published at

    War is never kind to the losing side: So fifteen-year-old orphan Nya has discovered since the Baseeri invaded and occupied her homeland, the tropical island of Geveg, forcing her people out of their homes and livelihoods and into the streets. And while her sister Tali's abilities have granted her a comfortable life training as a Healer in the League, Nya's own talents have a darker side to them: instead of transferring pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal use to store it, she can only shift it from person to person. She has vowed never to use her sinister abilities due to their sometimes lethal side effects. But now with her secret exposed Nya is forced to choose between saving the life of her sister and only family and destroying the resistance efforts of her own people forever.

    Despite weighty themes such as racism, poverty and government corruption, "The Shifter" is a surprisingly easygoing read; from its inventive, mild street slang ("sure as spit" and "Sweet Saea" being two examples) to characters that, while somewhat likeable, aren't exactly original. Because of this, it's thought-provoking without being overwhelming, an excellent combination for middle grade fantasy. And Hardy's non-traditional views on healing will probably spark a bit of "I wish I could do that" in its target audience.

    Unfortunately, though, older teens aren't likely to be as impressed. Its breezy style gets grating after awhile, and the one-liner dialogue is corny and the characters downright annoying as the book goes on. Nya's views on boys were particularly immature, making her seem more like a twelve-year-old than a fifteen-year-old. The setup for sequels is obvious, especially towards the end, and the foreshadowing feels heavy-handed and confusing. I also had a hard time keeping the political factions of Geveg and Baseeri straight, and Hardy would have done well to tone the diplomatic intrigue down a little.

    Despite all that, it is hard not to admire the messages that the author has set out to tell, and mostly succeeded in doing so. "The Shifter" is immensely readable and refreshingly original, and it drives home the point that no matter your writing ability, concept will always be king in fantasy and science fiction (try reading "Twilight" if you aren't convinced). While it probably won't be the next "it" series, "The Healing Wars" is definitely one to watch.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    A great read for fantasy enthusiasts

    This middle grade fantasy is the first in The Healing Wars Trilogy. Although boys would enjoy the physical nature of this adventure it is likely to have a greater appeal to girls. Nya is feisty and determined and a great role model for girls who may be wondering if they can do all that is expected of them. A good choice for reluctant readers because the story is complicated enough to interest them, with some mature implications, but not so difficult in reading level that it will lose them. This would also be a good book for advanced readers who need a multi-faceted story to hold their interest.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2011

    Parent approved!

    I bought this for my 14-yo daughter. I'm happy that she's reading anything, but this book solicited discussion among us and that's a bigger plus. The characters were interesting and well written and the plot kept us (not only a 14-yo but me too) interested.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Joan Stradling for TeensReadToo

    Nya and her sister have been orphaned. Though her sister has been taken in as an apprentice with the Healer's League, Nya is on her own. She has the power to take pain, but Nya isn't a Healer - she's a Taker. Instead of shifting pain into the enchanted metal known as pynvium, she can only push it into another person. This dangerous skill makes her valuable to the enemy, and she finds herself forced into working for a pain merchant. When her sister and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, Naya must make some difficult choices and decide how far she'll go to save her sister. THE SHIFTER is a brilliant beginning to THE HEALING WARS novels. Hardy has an elegant way of drawing the reader into the story with her characterization, and keeping them in the story with plot twists and the dark, war-torn setting for heightened tension. I loved reading about the darker side of healing as Nya's story unfolded, and I look forward to continuing to follow these characters in book two of the series, BLUE FIRE.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2013

    Awesome Book

    This book was so amazeing you absolutally HAVE to read it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 21, 2011

    Fantastic Fantasy!

    Originally reviewed and published at Let The Words Flow. When I pick up a book, I like to find myself immersed in a culture that is richly imagined and full of great characters. And with fantasy, I love when an author is able to make magic wholly unique. In Janice Hardy¿s middle-grade novel, The Shifter, that is exactly what is done. And don¿t let ¿middle-grade¿ fool you; while the book, if written for an older audience, could perhaps have been a bit darker, the book is by no means childish. It is well-written, complex, full of deceit, and ripe with betrayal; it is littered with political intricacies and so much cultural depth. So I hope none of you dismiss this book; this is the type of middle grade novel that can easily appeal to older audiences. Hardy has imagined a world where pain can not only be drawn out of a person through touch, but where pain is a commodity. She has created a world so culturally, religiously, and historically rich; so full of colour and wonderful vocabulary. Hardy throws you right into this world; and while it might take you time to figure out the cultural slang, political situation, and how exactly magic works for Takers (those who draw pain out of others), you¿ll find yourself absorbed nonetheless. Nya is a wonderful voice; she is conflicted, and is not a moral saint by any means. She finds herself often faced with difficult decisions that aren¿t clear-cut; there are many gray areas that Hardy is able to explore in this novel. And that was one of the most enjoyable things about The Shifter. The plot moves swiftly; it is well-paced, exciting, and just wonderfully imagined. Hardy¿s premise is innovative; and it carries a lot of weight. Full of action and adventure, this story will keep the pages turning; and right from the first chapter, you¿ll be thrown into the fray. We see the world through the eyes of Nya, whose voice is very engaging and realistic; written in first-person, every difficult decision she is faced with is all the more agonizing as we see her struggle with the choices laid out before her. She is headstrong, but not overly so. The contrast between everyone¿s differing personalities was wonderful; Danello¿s little twin brothers, for exexample, just stole my heart as soon as I was introduced to them. Soek, who was quite possibly my favourite character, plays a minor role; and yet I felt that he was fleshed out perfectly ¿ not too much (being more of a minor character), but not too little either (for it seems we¿ll be seeing more of him in the next book). His lines were funny, he wasn¿t perfect, and I just found him to be incredibly interesting. Full of political intrigue and betrayals, it does get a bit confusing closer to the end; with the Pain Merchants, the Duke, the League, and the Luminary all working towards their own ends (which aren¿t always obvious), it can get a bit convoluted. Some motivations aren¿t as developed or as clear as I would¿ve hoped them to be. However, a lot of it is eventually explained; and hints are dropped along the way. So there is lead-up; the twists don¿t come out of nowhere, and yet are still exciting to figure out. It¿s also nice to not be able to predict where the story will go. And there is action! Lots of it! Plus, I love the cover; it immediately grabbed my attention when I first saw it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:


    I didn't just go through and say, "Oh I liked this book so I'll give all the detailed ratings a five star", I honestly after thinking it carefully through think this book deserves every star it got. The characters were conflicting enough to keep them interesting, the story line was intriguing and slathered in twists, and the writing style was smooth and seemed to have had a lot of effort put into it. The first time through this book I couldn't put it down (Which I personally find rare in most books) and things didn't change at all during my second read. Need I state it more plainly; I loved this book. I very rarely purchase books as I have a library right down the street, but this is one I made an exception for. I cannot stop singing my praises for this book. I would recommend for anyone with a passion for reading and a love for fantasy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Good Book

    I was going through the library and I saw this book and I had nothing better to do for awhile, so I figuered I might as well rerad it because it looked pretty good. I didn't have high expectations, but in the end it was a good book. I am glad I decided to read it. I like how Nya is as powerful as her sister (if not more) in the end even though in the beginning she thought she wasn't good for much. I also liked how she was tough ans willing to do a lot of things, but was sweet and liked to help people. I liked how Janice Hardy didn't make her one of those girls who absolutely refused to do something morally wrong, even if the person agreed to it and it would help save them. Because, honestly, those girls are boring. Not many people are actually like that. And a lot of authors make their characters like that. But in the story Nya didn't do the aboulutely horrible things, which was good. It was a good balance of having a character that was realistic but at the same time uncorruptable in her own way. You should definately get this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Shifter Is A Wonderful Book!

    The Shifter is one of my favortie books. Many twists,secrects,and surprises good or bad keep the reader endured. This was a book I couldn't stop reading. It was a real page turner. My friends enjoyed this book too, and agreed anyone who likes to read would like to read this book! As soon as you start reading about the first chapter you know this book will give you a good laugh. I promise you that once you get really into the book all you will want to do is read. If you like fantasy books or mythical things, this is definatly a book to buy! Trust me on this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2013


    I raed the second one first (not on purpose) and it was so brilliant I simply had to read the this as well! Fabulous! Supurb! I am dying for more!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2013


    Magical and full of suspense!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012

    Anonous awser

    Looks lika good book. I sould read it.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2012

    An excellent Middle Grade perfect for lovers of magic and advent

    An excellent Middle Grade perfect for lovers of magic and adventure. The unique aspect of healing magic combined with a well written and authentic main character makes for a perfect combination sure to draw in both boys and girls. I was completely captured by the world Hardy creates and can't recommend this book highly enough!

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  • Posted June 23, 2012

    I appreciated the main character's depth and her attempts to sta

    I appreciated the main character's depth and her attempts to stay true to her moral compass, even though life gave her choices that made this hard to do. It was easy to stay with Nya and root for her as she made her way.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    just ok

    took to long to get the meat of the story:( Slow will not be looking for book two

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2011

    A Unique Fantasy Novel with a Great Setting

    As a children's bookseller for 16 years as well as an avid reader of fantasy for kids, Janice Hardy's book THE SHIFTER struck me as a stand-out in a crowded field. The magical ability she dreamed up for her main character, Nya, is absolutely brilliant. Nya can heal people by shifting their pain, from illness or wounds, which is relatively common in the Geveg Isles where she is from. What Nya keeps secret from most everyone else is that, while she can't shift the pain into the pynvium rock like other healers, she does have the very rare ability to shift the pain into other human beings. In a time when her country has been invaded by a ruler from the North, her parents killed and her younger sister in danger, Nya has to decide how and when to use her secret skill. Hardy's book, besides being creative, suspenseful and hard to put down, brings up so many issues worth talking about with your kids, much like Lois Lowry's masterpiece, THE GIVER. From ethical to political questions and even the topic of Universal Health Care, there is so much going on in this remarkable trilogy.

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  • Posted August 10, 2011

    Fun, original, engrossing read - if you like Kristin Cashore, def check this series out

    The Shifter is a lovely change of pace from standard fantasy fare - there are no knights to be found in this story, and no vampires, werewolves, or witches either. Instead I found a fascinating world where Healers are a magic resource that can be used to fuel a war, where the politics of conquest cause poverty and helplessness, and where a war-made orphan is determined to do whatever it takes to save her sister.

    Nya is a wonderful character - wry, flawed, stubborn and loyal. Her matter of fact acceptance of her lot is heartbreaking, especially with the reveals of what her life was like before the war, the family she used to have. Now Nya is scrambling to survive, a second class citizen in a conquered nation, and with rumors of war and refugees flooding the city, it's only going to get worse.

    I absolutely loved how Nya's desperate situation backed her into corner after corner, especially in terms of the morally questionable choices she has to make as a result of her growing power. Nothing is ever easy or simple for Nya, and I loved how the forces of the larger world kept acting upon her life, and how some of the things she has to do haunt her.

    The politics of power and the struggle to control the healers add a fascinating texture to this story, and the world building is so deftly woven into Nya's narrative that you'll hardly notice its arrival. Plenty of action propels this story forward from the first page, and the narrative will just never let you go.

    Janice Hardy delivers a fun, original, engrossing read that will leave you wanting more (and happily, there are two more books coming our way). If you're a fan of Kristin Cashore, definitely check this one out.

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  • Posted August 8, 2011

    Enjoyable fantasy read

    Nya is a hungry orphan who looks after her little sister, an apprentice Healer - and Nya is also a Taker, someone who can heal other people and take their pain. But unlike proper Healers, she can't dump that pain into pynvium, only into other people, so she's always thought her power was usesless (and something to hide, since the Duke whose forces are occupying her homeland has a dark interest in unusual abilities). But when a pynvium shortage hits her city and apprentice Healers start disappearing, suddenly everyone wants to use Nya's abilities. But all Nya cares about is finding her sister before it's too late.

    I really liked this book! It reminded me a bit of Active Voice favorite Fly By Night, actually (in a good way, that is). The plot is similarly caught up in intrigue and the politics of Nya's world: someone is hiding the pynvium shortage, but why? Who is starting riots and why? Why are people interested in Nya's talent, and what's happening to the missing apprentices? As it happens, though, I'd also say the book's biggest weakness is that some of the intrigue gets confusing. There are three separate antagonistic forces, sometimes working together and sometimes not (and Nya doesn't always know if they are or not), some of them working for the Duke and some against him, so it was mildly difficult to keep straight who was after what and why.

    All this intrigue is set against some very strong worldbuilding. The magic of healing is interesting (and gets more so as the book goes on and Nya discovers other facets of her abilities), and the culture of her world is really fascinating. Nya's country is occupied by a foreign military, and has been for long enough that outsiders have moved in and made it theirs (kicking the native-born citizens out of the best houses, taking the best jobs, etc). All the main characters still remember the invasion (and most lost loved ones during it); through the whole book there are simmering undercurrents of both anger and fear. The characters want the outsiders gone, but also know they were crushed when they fought before. The dynamics are really well presented.

    Just a few other thoughts on this one. The book was listed as teen, but read more as middle grade to me, in terms of tone (aside from a few gruesome moments) - the writing is rich but Nya came across as pretty young. Her character development is great, though. She's not naïve at the outset, but she faces increasingly morally grey questions and is forced to find answers, and sometimes she makes choices I didn't expect as she learns how to weigh consequences.

    Conclusion: like I said, I very much enjoyed this. I don't have a heck of a lot to say, but definitely recommend it to people who like fantasy, and I'll pick up the next book for sure.

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  • Posted August 8, 2011

    a fun story with strong voice!

    I really enjoyed this story. Nya was an interesting character with an incredibly strong voice. I loved her humor, as well as how she viewed her world. Watching her grow from a survivor, to a reluctant heroine, to a purposeful rebel was just wonderful.

    The world that Nya lives in is just as intriguing as she is. I love the idea that the ability to heal others comes with a price. In Nya's case, it's mental anguish from knowing that, in order to heal one person, someone else must suffer the pain. She's presented with very difficult choices and does the best she can with them. She doesn't let her choices endlessly torture her (they bother her, but don't incapacitate her), which I found very believable since she's a survivor, and survivors quickly learn how to compartmentalize. The fact that she's always quick to make amends, and goes to a great extent to do so, shows how much she wants to make things right with the world.

    The political aspects were sometimes confusing, and there were a few times where I had to go back and figure out who was connected to who and how/why. But that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. The villains were evil, but with a clear purpose, which kept them from being flat. Nya's friends were strong and likable, with plenty of flaws that kept them interesting.

    Nya's gradual discovery of her skills upped the stakes in wonderful ways, and paved the way for the next book in the trilogy. Which I am very much looking forward to. Definitely recommended.

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