The Shifter: The Healing Wars: Book 1
Balzer + Bray (2009)
Reviewed by Maggie Desmond-O’Brien (age 14) for Reader Views (10/09)
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 used 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 become 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.