Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Pain Merchants (Shifter) by Janice Hardy

British Cover
Nya lives in a world of Healers, Takers and Pain Merchants: people who can take pain from people and either store it away or turn it into powerful weapons. But Nya has a unique ability to actually be able to shift pain (hence the American name of the book) from one person to another. The story is what happens when this ability becomes known by those who would use her for it.

I'd read Janice's blog for a while before I decided to get the book, and in some ways I was surprised. I think I expected it to be more mature than it was: but I was forgetting that this is a teen book, perhaps Middle Grade (but I'm not entirely sure what Middle Grade actually is). Saying that though, I still really enjoyed the book and the world Nya lives in was lovely to  see and experience.

The healing idea is marvellous. As I said in the introduction, the ability is to take away the pain from an injury and- optionally- to be able to heal that injury. The pain is held in the healer's body until pynvium can be found: a rare metal that (when raw) is able to contain pain. In some ways, it's straightforward, but then I didn't want a huge and complicated magic system- and in it's good that it isn't magic. What's been done here is much more involved and sophisticated, in my opinion. One idea has been taken: that someone can heal someone else. What has then been done is that it was fleshed out. A problem with some magic in books is that- like in Harry Potter- no end of magic can be cast without personal effects. There is just an endless pool of magic while the magic itself is based on knowledge and creativity. Much better are the systems that cause the energy for magic to be taken from the caster, but that is an over-used idea. Janice's system is great because it really is a real effect: the healer will completely experience the pain of whoever they heal, they just won't have the physical injury.

The city itself was interesting too- as was it's place as city in a world. There is class divide in the city between the aristocrats who dominated the land through war and the natives who fought them. None of the descendants of those natives have positions of power, they-  the Gevegs- are beggars and manual labourers who work so that the Baseeris stay rich. The animosity between both groups is always apparent and it's the underlying tension throughout the city. A Baseeri believe that every Geveg's life is worth less than his own, and they would let thugs or worse do what they will with them. They turn a blind eye for their own protection.

American Cover (I prefer)
The League is almost the middle ground between Baseeris and Gevegs, but the leadership and power indicate quite clearly to whom the preference is directed. Since the skill of healing is valued, though not exceptionally rare, anyone will be accepted into the league and, once there, they dedicate their lives to healing others- in theory for the good of all. But in such a powerful establishment, there is obviously a level of corruption and wealth that is sadly necessary. The League has to feed, clothe and train the healers so money has to come into the institution. What's more, a Baseeri noble would dislike a grimy Geveg healing him so they must also be kept elegant and presentable. The League is supposed to be a good thing, at least that is what I feel. And I get the feeling it was a good thing until the Baseeris arrived as part of the unnamed Duke's conquest to reclaim independent lands.

One of the things I didn't like was the characterisation. I'm not going to make an issue of this because it isn't at the same maturity as some things I read so there can't always be the same moral ambiguity. Good and Evil are mostly clear cut, though the Pain Merchants (which is like a mob version of the League) are somewhat unclear. Even Nya, who is stealing eggs at the beginning, shows some sort of ambiguity. Yet it's all rather low-key and the manner of it makes it clear whether it's a good or bad deed. Nya is starving, so theft can be acceptable; and she also offers to work for her food once caught. She is a good character in a tough situation. As for the Pain Merchants, they are seen as ultimately bad. Though they might do good, it's for capitalist reasons of money-making.

The other thing  noticed myself disliking was some of the slang in the book. Some of it was local dialect, but when "cos" starting being used instead of "because" or " 'cause" the grammar freak in me lashed out and I got rather annoyed every time it was used after. I do remember some others, but that is the one that annoys me the most. Also, some of the names were bothersome since they seemed to awkward, but I think I'm just being unwarrantedly picky.

As a fantasy book for younger readers, I do think this was quite good. I would have preferred a more mature book, but knowing my old tastes, I know I would have liked it. I think the fact I read it all in a day is a nod towards the fact it is a good book. If you're looking for something simple, enjoyable and fantastical, look no further.


  1. This sounds like a good series I could recommend to my nieces and nephews.

    1. Yeah, get them hooked on YA fantasy- sounds like my youth!