In Nya's world, a healer can stitch up a wound and pull its pain out of the affected body and into her own. Healers draw out the hurt, carry it, and then store it in a substance called pynvium—a non-renewable resource mined from the mountains. For the right coin, any injury can disappear; healers can heal any hurt.
Well... most healers, that is. But Nya isn't like most healers. When she pulls the pain out of a person, she only has one option: to shift it into someone else. Pynvium doesn't work for her. And that's a problem, because without it, Nya can't be a real healer. She can't find work, she can't help people, and worst of all, if anyone ever finds out she's a shifter she'll be carted off and forced to cause harm.
But now her sister has disappeared, the Healers' League has stopped taking patients, and a mysterious man is tailing her around the city. Nya is the only one with a chance of setting things right, and she might just have to use her terrible power to do so.
Janice Hardy's The Shifter is an incredibly fun read. I absolutely loved it. I've read a lot of heavy books lately, so this one had just the right tone to put me back in balance. It's not all rainbows and sunshine, of course—Nya struggles with some very hard decisions—but it's an adventure that left me with a smile.
The ideas behind the book really worked. The “about the author” at the end mentions “the darker side of healing,” which I think is an absolutely brilliant concept. Janice Hardy takes that idea and continuously pokes and prods it. She puts Nya into a lot of situations that don't have an obvious right or wrong solution. I really appreciated the ethical questions that came up in this book.
I also loved reading about Nya's world. I didn't find any flaws in the internal consistency, and I was impressed with how the main idea had an impact on more than one aspect of society. Healers don't just take the place of physicians. The ability to heal during war and the competition for the pynvium resource set up a complex political environment.
Though I say this about almost every book I like, it's no less true here: I enjoyed the characters. Nya is very likable. The secondary characters, both allies and villains, add some nice variety to the story. There wasn't a single one that I wished would just disappear. I also liked that there's a hint of possible romance, but that it's playing out slowly. I can see what each of the characters appreciates in the other, so it's a rewarding relationship.
All in all, I'd say this is a very good book for anyone who likes fantasy, and probably even for those who don't tend to read it. I know I'm looking forward to the next in the series!