The Shifter by Janice Hardy – Review

Book Jacket:

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 Healer’s League apprentices, Nya’s skill is flawed: she can’t push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do it shift it into another 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 when Tali and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, she’s 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?

You can read an excerpt here.


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.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Writer Musings says:

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…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.

Addicted to Books says:

Hardy has created a brave, strong-willed female character in a world that is totally unique. It was imaginative, creative and packed with suspense – one kept wondering just how was Nya going to get out of all this? And although it’s a middle grade book, there were some hints at a coming romance – I have to say that I’m curious how that will play out. In all, it kept me reading straight through and I definitely plan to buy the sequel.

The Sharp Angle says:

This book has everything I crave in a good spec fic story. World building without boring infodumps or getting lost in lengthy descriptions. A strong-yet-conflicted viewpoint character. A plot that keeps you guessing. High concept and high stakes, and a pace that, at times, literally leaves you breathless. Highly recommended.