Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quirkalicious FNC Review: The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Here's a book to add to your holiday wish list: Janice Hardy's THE SHIFTER. This upper MG/lower YA fantasy novel is such a well-written debut that it deserves the extra-special FNC treatment. Janice is one of our favorite writing gurus, and it's clear that she follows her own advice.

So what's THE SHIFTER all about?

Amazing summary from Janice's website: Sister. Healer. Deadly Weapon. Nya has a secret she must never share. A gift she must never use. A world she must never question...and a sister whose life depends on her doing all three.

Cool, right? (I'll post the full summary at the end of the review for your reading pleasure!)

In Nya's world, belief in the Saints is as natural as the Greeks and their gods.

Proof from page 8: Heclar screamed loud enough to wake the Saints. To be truthful, it was worse than he deserved, but sending me to prison for eggs I hadn't yet stolen was worse than I deserved too. The Saints are funny that way.

[Sidegush: Don't you just love Nya's voice?]

After I finished reading THE SHIFTER, I knew that a few saints were looking out for Janice while she wrote! And thus, my quirkalicious review:

Patron Saint of Characterization
How would I describe Nya? Stubborn, brave, and scared. Decisive. Tenacious. Fiercely devoted to the people she loves. Selfless. But she has a wry humor that gets her through the worst of it.

At fifteen years old, Nya's had a hard life. Besides her sister, Tali, Nya's entire family has either died or been killed in the war that ravaged her city and left her and the other Gevegians second-class citizens. She's struggles to make rent and fights hunger on a daily basis. This leads to tough choices--and theft is just the beginning. In a world where pain is sold to the highest bidder, Nya also possesses a singular ability--to shift pain from one human being to another. When Tali disappears, all of Nya's struggles come to a head, and she must decide how far she's willing to go to get her back.

I love that Nya's situation sets her up to make adult decisions in everyday life, but she's still very much a teenager. She's an appealing character because, as a reader, you can understand her choices, even if you disagree with them. Janice mixes in with the action just enough of Nya's internal thoughts to give you a clear picture of who she is.

The other characters in the novel also jump off the page. The lines of good and bad are blurred frequently, and Janice shows how good people often make the wrong choice in a desperate situation. Even the more traditional "bad" guys have unique motivations and personalities. Nya doesn't operate alone, though she tries to, and her allies were equally well-written.

Patron Saint of World Building
Geveg is a very realistic city, and even though Nya's still a teenager, she's fully aware of the political situation. Geveg has been crippled ever since the Baseeri defeated them in a war, and throughout the novel readers get a clear picture of the difficulties of everyday life. Nya's story is woven into a larger world--and oftentimes that world is ugly and dirty. But Janice gives Nya enough moments of hope and examples of overwhelming love to keep her determined to save Tali and Geveg.

Patron Saint of Just Enough Romance
Danello enters the picture from the first page. He's the guard who catches Nya stealing eggs, and he discovers her ability. After a deadly ferry accident, their lives intersect once again, and he becomes part of Nya's world. What I adored about their romance is how appropriate it was for the novel--I completely felt the attraction, the potential for them together, but never did it overpower the real story. THE SHIFTER had the perfect amount of sigh-worthy "almost" moments, and they were written so well that I instantly loved the idea of Nya and Danello as a couple. Danello's my newest fictional crush, and I can't wait to see more of him!

Patron Saint of Tight Writing
No word is wasted.

Patron Saint of High Stakes
Just when you think Nya's situation couldn't get any worse, it does. The decisions she makes not only risk her own life, but they also the lives of others. There are no easy outs, no white knights. The game changes and becomes more complicated multiple times throughout the novel, and Janice doesn't allow for a simple solution. I wanted Nya so desperately to succeed because she worked for it, dammit! And she's willing to sacrifice everything to save her sister and her city.

Patron Saint of Strong Endings
With all of this buildup, Janice does a fantastic job in the payoff. The central plotline of the novel wraps up completely--I felt very satisfied with it, but it opens up a larger world for Nya. This one chain of events allows her to see her place in the big picture, and she's ready to get in deeper. All of her hard decisions have changed her as a person, and like any complete character, she can't go back to where she was before.

Conclusion: Book 2 in The Healing Wars, please!

Full summary: Fifteen-year-old 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 and storing it inside her own body. But unlike her sister Tali and the other Takers who become Healer’s League apprentices, Nya’s skill is flawed: she can’t push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store person to 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 purpose. At first, Nya refuses, but 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?

What are you waiting for?! Go buy THE SHIFTER today on Amazon, B&N, Borders, or IndieBound
Janice's website / The Healing Wars blog / The Other Side of the Story blog


  1. This review was, indeed, quirkalicious! This book sounds near perfect, actually. Nya sounds like an absolutely hilarious little teenage adult.

  2. I have this book! Alas, I'm still trying to get to it, but I can't wait. Thanks for the review!

  3. Can't wait to read this book! I've heard so many amazing things! Fab review ladies.

  4. Glad you guys liked the review! This book is one of the strongest debuts I've ever seen - Janice seems like an old hat at this! Definitely deserves more coverage around the blogosphere.

  5. I've been wanting to read this book since I saw it reviewed on another blog. Great review!! I'm looking forward to picking The Shifter up soon.

  6. Wonder how they came up with the cover art

  7. Ooh, love the review. You just bumped this up on my TBR a few notches.


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