Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The Pain Merchants by Janice Hardy
Nya has a secret she must never share… A gift she must never use… And a sister whose life depends on both. This astonishing debut novel is the first in the epic dystopian fantasy adventure trilogy, THE HEALING WARS.
Fifteen-year-old Nya is one of Geveg’s many orphans; she survives on odd jobs and optimism in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Nya has a deadly secret. She is a Taker, someone who can extract pain and injury from others, but with unusual differences. Her sister Tali and other normal Takers become Healer’s League apprentices and put their extracted pain into enchanted metal, pynvium. But Nya can’t dump pain in this way. All she can do is shift it from person to person. When Nya’s secret is revealed to the pain merchants and the Healer’s League she is flung into danger. Then a ferry accident floods the city with injured, Takers start disappearing from the Healer’s League and Nya’s strange abilities are suddenly in demand. Her principles and endurance are tested to the limit when Nya’s deadly powers become the only thing that can save her sister's life.
Good fantasy for the YA market is always such a treat to read. Especially when it is done as well as The Pain Merchants. The writing is super easy to read as it flows and draws you in and before you know it, you're a hundred pages in and you realise you've not blinked enough. And then you make excuses to catch a few more pages of reading by taking a longer commuting route to work...
Nya's predicament is that she has the ability to take in a lot of pain when healing people who are injured. She can then pass this pain onto another person and it's generally called shifting the pain and it makes her a Taker. It is a rare ability and one that is frowned on by the authorities. Nya's younger sister, Tali, is being trained as a Healer at the League. There are different levels of healing and Tali is still quite young, but she is good at what she does. The healers empty the pain they absorb into a large stone called pynvium and trouble starts when a) pynvium shipments are late in arriving due to a war taking place elsewhere and b) the pyvium that is around becomes very expensive to obtain.
Nya lives a hand-to-mouth existence. She's good friends with hunger and is used to working hard doing menial tasks to get enough money to pay for her rent or for food. When the ferry accident happens she wades in to help as many people as she can. But the toll of so many injured people is high and some are badly hurt and a lot of them die as a consequence.
Nya is abducted and taken to a pain merchant's shop and asked to perform a healing. She refuses, insisting that the damage done to the injured person is too great and that it would kill the person she's shifting the pain to. But then the old man, a fisherman, begs her to go ahead and do it. He's been promised a great deal of money to take the pain of the nobleman's child and the money should be able to help his family survive, even if he dies. Nya herself is offered a considerable amount of money to to shift the pain. In the end, she reluctantly agrees to do what they ask of her.
Nya also helps a young man, a boy only slightly older than herself. His dad had been caught up in the ferry accident and the boy, Danello, begs Nya to please help them. He can't pay in much money but he can offer her a place to sleep and some food. Nya is destitute and she agrees. She shifts some of Danelle's dad's pain to him and his twin brothers but she keeps a lot of it for herself.
This is only the start of Nya's troubles. Soon it becomes clear that word of Nya's gift has spread. People are actively searching for her and when she meets with Tali at the local park she tells Nya that some of the novices at the Healer's League are disappearing. They are taken from their beds and then they are just gone, never to return. Then, not too long later, word reaches Nya that Tali herself has disappeared. Nya goes out of her mind with worry. Tali is her sister, she is prepared to do anything to find her sister.
There is a lot going on in The Pain Merchants but the author makes juggling it all look easy. I already mentioned how ridiculously easy it was to get stuck into The Pain Merchants. The writing is great, the plot is not necessarily something new, not for old hand fantasy readers like myself, but what keeps it fresh is the characters, especially Nya. The voice reminded me strongly of Fire by Kristen Cashore - in that you never doubted Nya for one instance. You knew that this girl could suck it up and get on with it. Her voice was always clear, it never wavered and the fact that she kept moving forward, no matter what setbacks she faced, endeared her to me.
Great kudos to the author for creating a very believable situation for the story to be rooted in. The political machinations are touched on with a deft hand and it never gets so heavy that it bogs down the story and I really thought it helped move the overall feel of the story along. You slowly become aware of the world outside of Geveg, of the overall unhappiness of the long-time residents who have become second class citizens when their city was taken over by the Baseeri after the Duke decided to add it to his conquests. More refugees trickle in from nearby states as the Duke continues with his rampage across the lands, subjecting everyone to his iron rule.
It is up to Nya, Danello and Nya's friend Aylin to figure out what exactly is going on in the Healer's League and even so, once they find out what's going on, what will they do about it? That is, if they can do something about it.
A thoughtful, fast paced fantasy novel that would suit younger as well as older adult and established readers of the genre. It is also one of the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize shortlisted titles which is a great bit of luck as it is really a good, satisfying read.
Find Janice Hardy's website here. The Pain Merchants is out now and published by Harper Collins UK.