Book Review: The Shifter

Note: For those of you in the UK, the title is The Pain Merchant.

A few years ago, the Duke of Baseer invaded and conquered Nya’s home of Geveg.  Thrown out of her home at the age of ten, Nya has fallen into the struggle of all Gevegians:  the struggle to survive.

Nya’s younger sister Tali has it slightly better.  As an apprentice Healer, Tali has a bed, three meals a day, and lessons to develop her skill, even if she isn’t treated with respect.  Nya wishes she could be an apprentice too, but her own healing gift is flawed: Unlike Tali and normal Healers, she can’t shift the pain of healing into pynvium, an enchanted metal which absorbs the pain and is then made into weapons.  Instead, Nya can only shift the pain to another person, a skill which could mean the end of her freedom if the Baseeri found out.

And her secret is found out, first by a night guard who becomes Nya’s friend, then by a pain merchant.  The night guard, Danello, just wants Nya to save his father’s life, even if it means that he has to carry his father’s pain himself; the pain merchant, Zertanik, wants to use Nya’s power to make himself richer than he already is.

Nya feels that betraying her ethics isn’t worth the money of working for the pain merchant, but when Tali goes missing, the merchant offers to look into it. . . for a price.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Geveg’s supply of pynvium has begun to run out, and a ferry accident leaves many people, Gevegian and Baseeri alike, mortally injured with family members willing to pay anything to have them healed, and Zertanik has one of the few shops left in Geveg with a solution.

Nya’s father used to say that principles are a bargain at any price.  How many will Nya have to sell to get her sister back?

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its description–after all, the publishers write the descriptions to make you want to buy the book–but Janice Hardy’s The Shifter lived up to my high expectations.  I must say, though, that The Shifter was certainly a nice surprise in the plot department.  Since I pride myself on being pretty good at guessing the endings to books, it was refreshing to find one that was almost completely unpredictable.  Every time I thought, “And now this is going to happen,” Hardy went off in a completely different direction.

I did manage to predict one thing, though:  The Shifter‘s minor cliffhanger ending.  I say ‘minor’ because Hardy ended the story where Tali goes missing, but then has the characters declare war on the Duke of Baseer.  Even though I loved The Shifter, the cliffhanger still made me feel like the frustrated Martian in the old Warner Brothers cartoons.

At the UCF Book Festival, I attended a forum where Hardy and Bryan Davis (the Dragons in our Midst series) discussed writing.  Hardy said that she ignores the advice to not write yourself into a corner.  Instead, she lets herself be backed into a corner, and then finds a creative way out of it.  This trick works, so if you’re a writer who’s stuck on a story, maybe you should try it, too.

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