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The Healing Wars, Book One: The Shifter by Janice Hardy
Review by Mel Jacob
Balzer + Bray Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061747045
Date: 01 October 2009 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Janice Hardy's debut novel, The Shifter (the Healing Wars Book One), features the adventures of Nya, a teen-age Taker. From a family of Healers, Nya wants to become one as well, however she has a problem. She can shift pain to herself from the injured and heal them, but she can't shift it to pynvium, the metal used by Healers to hold pain. Luckily, her sister Tali, a League of Healers apprentice, can and will pass Nya's pain off as her own from healing.

Most days, Nya finds work that pays her rent and buys her meager food. Tali often saves some of her food ration for Nya. However, Nya's troubles escalate when she tries to steal two eggs for breakfast. She struggles to escape, but a guard catches her, and the rancher demands she go to prison. In the struggle, the young guard suffers a broken leg. She can't resist helping him. She heals him and takes his pain, but must then elude the rancher. When he catches her, in desperation, she shifts the guard's pain to him. Unfortunately, two young apprentices see her and report it to a League Elder healer when Nya visits Tali.

Afraid of being captured and turned into an assassin or worse, she flees. Unable to pay her rent, the landlady tosses her out. Then, she realizes a tracker is hunting her. Hurting and looking for work, she comes across a sinking ferry and struggles with others to save the passengers. Many have suffered serious injuries and others die. Nya does what she can and accumulates more pain.

The guard, Danello, accosts her and seeks her help. His father, the sole breadwinner for the family was injured in the ferry accident. Without Nyla's healing, his father may die. If the father loses his job as a coffee roaster, Danello's brothers and sister will starve. He tells Nya the family will take his father's pain. To prove it, he demands she shift some of her pain from healing the ferry passengers to him. Reluctant, she agrees and accompanies him to his home. His family gives her a place to sleep and food.

The next morning she learns her sister has disappeared. In a daze, she fails to note the tracker and he captures her. His employer has need of a healer because the League of Healers is overburdened and understaffed. The wealthy seek his assistance, and he bargains with Nya for her skills. Worry over Talia makes her accept, if he will find her sister. The experience becomes more horrific than Nya expects, especially when those to whom she transfers the pain suffer agony. In one case, the intended receiver refuses and Nya accepts the refusal and leaves. Receivers of pain suffer consequences Nya had not anticipated. She fears Danello and his brothers may die. Without access to pynvium, even the overworked healers can do nothing.

People begin to riot over the lack of healers. Nya must solve the mystery of the healers' disappearances. She finds Tali, but must flee before she can rescue her.

Nya discovers allies and unexpected abilities. Hardy has focused on the dark side of healing and provides a setup for the sequel.

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