Maureen E's Reviews > The Shifter

The Shifter by Janice Hardy
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's review
Oct 29, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, middle-grade-and-younger
Read in October, 2010

Opening line: “Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken.”

From the front flap: “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…other Takers who become Healers’ League apprentices, Nya’s skill is flawed: she can’t push that pain into…the enchanted metal used to store it.”

I thought this book had a fascinating premise, and one that seemed pretty original (yay). I really liked the fact that the implications of the various abilities were well thought out. They didn’t simply exist in some sort of vacuum. Instead, they had both practical applications and political significance. I’m always happy when fantasy books do take things like this seriously.

However, I had a very hard time connecting to the characters, especially to Nya. This is unfortunate, since it is first person narration. Oddly enough, I think a lot of the reason I had a hard time with her is that she agonizes over everything. She feels bad. She is, in some ways, too good a person. If she had made exactly the same choices but without feeling so guilty, it would have made her less good but perhaps a bit more interesting. And it would have really shown the effects of the war, which I didn’t really see as clearly as I could have.

In general, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the old “show, don’t tell” adage, but here I think Hardy could have done a bit less telling with a good effect. For instance, Nya talks about her dead relatives a lot, but I never got a real sense of her sorrow. I think a large part of this may be a reluctance to go too in-depth with the effects of war and sorrow considering that this book is aimed for ages 10 and up. But for me the effect was a little disconcerting and I ended up, as I said, not really connecting to any of the characters.

Book source: public library
Book information: Harper Collins, 2009; 10 and up

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