You've been waiting for it. Now we're happy to present Janice Hardy, author of THE SHIFTER (THE PAIN MERCHANTS in the UK).
About THE SHIFTER:
Fifteen-year-old 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 and storing it inside 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 is shift it from person to 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?
THE SHIFTER is classic Young Adult fantasy with a unique concept. Honestly, I think the use of healing as a resource is one of the very best concepts I've come across in a long time. Hardy builds the world so thoroughly that the society comes alive for the reader. She truly is a talented world builder (read more about her world building here).
The tale is innocent enough to attract younger YA readers, but thoughtful and penetrating enough for older readers. It's full of great characters, from survival-influenced Nya to strong, insistent Donello, to the mysterious Jeatar. Principles are for sale in THE SHIFTER, and I often found myself wondering how I would have handled the situations Nya finds herself in. While I personally would have like to see a little more direct action from the main villains, I found the story to be exciting and well-paced and I look forward to the next installment in the series.
Janice was kind enough to answer some burning questions for our readers. Thanks for taking the time to chat with the Highway!
1. The concept is amazing! Who hasn’t wanted their pain immediately taken from them? Where did this idea come from?
Thanks! About six years ago, I was playing with twisting standard fantasy tropes, and it dawned on me that in fantasy, healing rarely has consequences. It’s usually a laying of hands and divine light and everyone is good as new. I could only think of one novel where healing had any downsides at all (Michelle West’s Broken Crown series). I started thinking, what if the only magic in this world was healing, and it had consequences? How could healing be a bad thing? I came up with the idea of a boy who could heal, but had no control over it. He’d bump into people and take their pain, but be unable to get rid of it. There’d be bad guys who’d want to use his pain as a weapon, and would offer to take his away. It was a ghastly story, and I crammed it into a drawer and forgot all about it. Then two years ago, I was at the Surrey International Writers Conference where the presenters stressed originality. I came home all fired up to find something fresh, dug into my old files and found my old notes. The story was still terrible, but that core idea of pain shifting stuck with me. After that, I just started world building and the story developed from that.
2. Stylistically, THE SHIFTER reads like good, classic fantasy. Because of this, it will be accessible and appealing to fantasy lovers. Was this intentional or simply a byproduct of the voice and story that needed to be told?
I think a byproduct of voice and story. My only intention when I start a book is to tell a good story, and it’s up to the characters how that sounds and feels. Nya fell right onto the page with a strong sense of who she was and that really set the tone for the book. I’d love to take credit for it, but it was really her doing.
3. Nya’s gift is extraordinary. Are we going to see more unusual gifts from other Healers/Takers? Any hints on what those might be?
Yes, but I can’t say what kinds or it’ll give things away.
4. There are a number of villains in your story and – with a resource as desirable as healing – their motivations ring true. Do you think it’s possible for Nya’s world to have a system that’s fair or will greed always get in the way?
I think greed will always get in the way on some level, because the resources are limited. And since those resources can literally mean the difference between life and death, people are going to want to control and hoard them.
5. Your “good” characters: Nya and her friends and family, Jeatar, are intriguing and well-rounded. I hope we see them sticking with Nya to the very end. What are the temptations that might pull them from their fight for freedom?
You’ll see them all again in book two. Hmmm…temptations. Survival most likely. Their lives are not easy, and I can see each of them hitting a point where they’ll wonder if it’s really worth it. They have their own priorities, and at some point those have to clash. (And if I have my say, it’ll be at the worst possible moments)
6. Can you give us any hints as to what direction Nya and Danello’s relationship is headed?
Let’s just say they’ll definitely get to know each other better and leave it at that. –grin-
7. You are an excellent world builder. What have been your influences re: world building?
Thanks! The first time I noticed world-building from a writer, and that was after reading David Eddings’ “Pawn of Prophecy,” I was really impressed with how smoothly he slipped the background details into the narrative. I actually remember describing it to a friend that he wrote with the background details like a movie puts in sounds effects. It’s all there, and you don’t notice it, but it makes everything feel so real. One of my biggest influences is actually my best friend (and fellow writer) Juliette Wade. She’s a wonderful world builder and our discussions over the years about worlds and point of view really made me look at it in a whole new light. Worlds are about character, and two people will see the same world differently. The trick is to show the world through someone’s eyes, with all the biases and opinions that come with it.
8. You write about principles and ideologies in a way that makes the reader think about one’s own principles. How important is it to you that your readers question their own character as they read?
Not at all. My goal is to entertain them and tell a great story, and if I do anything more than that, it’s icing on the cake. I think it’s really cool when people do question things, and I’m thrilled that the story connected with them on such a level, but it’s not something I set out to do. I think if I tried to do it on purpose, it would come across all preachy. I just let the characters be who they are, and readers can take away whatever they want from that. And everyone takes something different, which I love.
9. The mythology/religion in Nya’s world is intriguing. How influential is it to the peoples of Geveg and to those who occupy Geveg and are fleeing to it?
Interesting question! It depends on the person. Nya has a strong spiritual side and she relies on that for her strength, but she’s just as reliant on her Grannyma’s memory as she is in her patron Saint. Some characters are very influenced by the Saints, while others don’t give them a thought. No society believes all of one thing or another, and I wanted to reflect that with Geveg.
10. How many books are planned for The Healing Wars series and when can we expect the next installment of the story?
Three total, and the next book should be out around fall of 2010.
Finally, Five Real Fast:
1. A book that should be required reading for every teenager? Ooo, that’s a toughy. I’ve always loved “The Secret Garden,” but there have been so many that really stuck with me.
2. What special power would you have if you could choose? Hands down, teleportation.
3. What is your favorite supermarket candy? Sweet Tarts.
4. If you could have any animal as a pet, what would it be? A Komodo Dragon.
5. What place in your life highway has been the best, so far? Cliché as it sounds, right now. How could it not be? I just had a lifelong dream come true!
THE SHIFTER is Janice Hardy's first novel. You can read more about Janice and her work on Janice's website.
It's your turn to discover Nya and the world of pain shifting. We are giving away one ARC copy of THE SHIFTER to a lucky reader. Your first comment is entry #1. Followers get another comment (leave a second comment with "Entry #2 - Follower" in the box.) If you link to us on your blog, you may leave another comment (Entry #3 - *insert blog address here*) for a total of three entries. The winner will be announced Wednesday, September 23. Good luck!