I don't usually indulge in Middle Grade fantasy... or Middle Grade anything, except perhaps cheese, but this author's blog has been interesting and valuable reading, and her discussions piqued my interest in her book. Is her skill with story as strong as I would expect given her observations and opinions on the subject?
The Shifter is the story of Nya, an orphan who lives in a conquered and occupied city. She and her sister both have the rare ability to absorb another's injuries, but where her sister can dump those injuries into an inert metal called pynvium, Nya can only transfer the pain of them into another person. When her sister goes missing, Nya enlists a handful of friends to find and rescue her. Unfortunately, doing so pits their wits and skills against the leaders of the Healer's temple, uncovers hints of a conspiracy larger than Nya's sister or her city, and reveals that Nya may be more powerful and dangerous than anyone realizes.
It's a great adventure, not just for younger readers but for adults as well, tightly plotted and well told. It's also outside the scope of standard magical fantasy, reminding me of something like Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The book's portrayal of the post-war existence of a subjugated people is harsh and believable. Nya is compelling enough to make me forget that in this book, as in most child-targeted fantasies, parents and adults are either malevolent, incompetent, or absent (Nya heals one character's father, but the man is never on stage). Her courage and resourcefulness are well grounded, while her wit and candor make her an entertaining guide to the world.
All in all, I really enjoyed this and look forward to Blue Fire.
Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this.