Monday, January 11, 2010

Writer's Book Review: Janice Hardy's THE SHIFTER

Why I bought this book:  I first heard of Janice Hardy's THE SHIFTER from reading her agent's blog, Kristin Nelson's PubRants. Kristin first posted Janice's query, which instantly grabbed my attention (although there are some other posts on the production of the book here).

I thought the concept behind this book was intriguing, and I planned to buy it from first hearing about it from Kristin's blog. When I was in my local bookstore just before Christmas, though, I saw THE SHIFTER on sale...with a big "autographed copy" sticker on it. My bookstore owner had gone to a conference where Janice was and picked up signed copies for the store. Moral of the story: SHOP LOCAL INDIE BOOKSTORES, PEOPLE! :)

But I digress. THE SHIFTER was one of the best MG novels I'd read in 2009. I put it on the shelf next to Sarah Prineas's work, which you all know is a high compliment. This had a thoroughly engaging plot, brilliantly drawn characters, and a ton of excitement.

Elsewhere on the web: Janice's webpage is a well-done example of what an author's webpage should be, and she has both a blog about her book and one about writing.

Five Sentence Summary: Nya isn't a healer--her sister is. And although that means her sister has a warm bed and assured meals (and Nya doesn't), it's not entirely a safe position. Their land, recently defeated and now occupied, isn't a safe place to be. When healers start to go missing, Nya's worried...and when her sister winds up among the missing, she becomes determined to save her. And she can, because she also has a secret: although Nya can't heal pain like her sister can, she can transfer it--which is a pretty powerful weapon.

So what can we, as writers, learn from this book? Highlight for spoilers!

1. Realistic Worldbuilding: When I say Nya's world is vividly painted, I mean it. This is one of the most complete worlds I've read in a long time. But it's not like Janice hits you over the head with it. It's just there. For example, Nya calls her grandmother "Grannyma" and periodically tells the reader of saying her grandmother used to tell her. They're like common maxims we know, but twisted to fit their world. It's the little details like these that really work and make the world whole.

But it's also important to note that Janice doesn't dumb things down for the reader. If you read closely, you'll pick up on subtle racial issues (the idea that the losing side of the past war, the Gevegs, are lesser is a common idea among the other citizens). There's even hints at a darker world that Nya sees--her friend works outside a dance hall, insisting that the outside is safer. It's not spelled out, but the reason why its safer on the outside is hinted at.

2. Smart Characters: I hate it when a character isn't as smart as they should be. I recently read a book (that I won't be discussing here) where the entire plot would have dissolved if the main character asked one simple, obvious question. The character never asked that question--until the last chapter. Nya and her friends don't do this. And I appreciate it.

Sure, Nya's impulsive. And she does do some stupid things sometimes. But they're logical for her character. When Nya confers with her friends for suggestions, she listens. When her best friend offers help, she accepts. She's not just a brainless engine for the author to pull along the plot, and the book is all the more interesting because of that.

3. Unique Magic: There is a clear, solid foundation to magic in Nya's world. I suppose I should group this in with worldbuilding, but it's distinct enough to deserve it's own bullet here. Janice created a truly unique magic system, where pain can be taken from the body and transferred to a large mineral, pynvium. There's decent explanations as to why Nya's different (she can transfer pain from person to person, but not to pynvium), and plenty of hints about her powers differences that I hope can be explained in future books.

Quibbles: Actually...none. I really liked this one. I devoured it in a few days, and loved every second of reading it.

The Bottom Line: This is a brilliant work, I loved it! Go buy it!

And make sure you check out tomorrow's post for a special interview with Janice Hardy on her latest book!


Tana said...

Sounds like a great read. I might pick it up for my middle grader.

Unknown said...

Hi :)
Thank you for the thoughtful indepth review.

Donna Gambale said...

I too agreed at how strong this debut was --- so strong, in fact, Janice seems like a veteran! My review looked much like your own.

ali cross said...

What a great review ~ thanks!

Vonna said...

This book was one of my favorites for 2009.

Natalie Aguirre said...

What a great review. I got the book as a holiday present (the only thing I asked for) and loved it too. One thing that intrigued me was the cover. Publishers Weekly had an ad of the cover on their Thursday children newsletter for several weeks. I had read Kristen Nelson's posts about the book but had forgotten them. I wanted to read the book based on the cover alone. Can't wait to see your interview.

Unknown said...

T. Anne: You definitely must--it's totally worth it.

Nishant said...

I might pick it up for my middle grader.

Work from home India

Heather Zundel said...

I've been wanting to read this book. The premise looks very good.