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Sunday, 3 January 2010

Review: The Pain Merchants (The Healing Wars: Book One)

Author: Janice Hardy
Release date: UK Oct 2009
US Title: Shifter
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: 11+


From Amazon:
A young girl becomes a pawn in a bigger political game when her uncanny -- and dangerous -- ability to shift pain between people turns out to be the only weapon she has to save her sister. Fifteen-year-old Nya is one of Geveg's many orphans; she survives on odd jobs and optimism, finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion, and two eyewitnesses unable to keep their mouths shut exposes her secret to the two most powerful groups in the city: the pain merchants and the Healer's League. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others. Trouble is, unlike her sister Tali and the other normal Takers who become league apprentices, she can't dump that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person to person, a useless skill that's kept her out of the league and has never once paid for her breakfast. When a ferry accident floods the city with injured, the already overwhelmed Takers start disappearing from the Healer's League and Nya's talent is suddenly in demand. But her principles and endurance are tested to the limit when her talent turns out to be the only thing that can save her sister's life.

Review:
After reading the above blurb, I was so excited to begin The Pain Merchants. I thought the premise sounded fascinating and also thought-provoking. I found myself wondering about the moral implications of having an ability like the main character Nya. Why would you remove a person's pain just to give it to another person? Can purposefully causing another person pain ever be acceptable or morally right? I had expectations that The Pain Merchants would make me face ethical dilemmas and consider the importance of the most basic human rights.

Sadly, this was not the reading experience that the book provided. Although the premise was interesting, it failed in the execution of the idea. We read the story from Nya's perspective and follow her as she tries to survive in a flawed society. She is an isolated character who also happens to be the heroine of the story. Even though she was likeable, she was not all that interesting. Yet she is the character who is facing the ethical dilemma of whether to use her ability to shift pain from one person to another. I expected her to be more internally tortured by her actions. I don't wish to mislead. Nya knows shifting pain is in principle wrong and she doesn't actually want to do it. But surely, causing physical agony to another person would burn the inner workings of your heart and mind? At least, I know this is what it would do to me. This is where I should have found myself relating most to Nya and I found that I simply didn't find her character fully developed or believeable.

The plot seemed to flow and then stop, almost rhymthically so. At one moment I'd start to think "at last this is getting interesting" and then I'd be sighing because the story had lost my interest again. The most interesting parts of the story were when Nya was connecting with other characters. Danello and Soek were easier to relate to and in some ways admire. I wonder if the story would have been more enjoyable if either of them had been the narrator.

The Pain Merchants is certainly an original concept and Hardy did create an engaging setting for her story. The corrupt world in which Nya tries to hide her shifting ability is well-crafted and portrayed as appropriately brutal. Yet I think at times this worked against the telling of the story, the governance of the city was difficult to understand. There was the Duke, The Pain Merchants, The League and the Luminary all working towards their own ends. I often felt confused as to which person or group followed or controlled and this added to my sense of the plot dragging.

Overall, in The Pain Merchants Hardy explores a fascinating premise yet she fails to execute it in the most gripping and thought-provoking way. At times I liked elements of the story but I failed to relate to the main character. It is unlikely that I will read the next book but I noticed on Amazon there are many positive reviews of this book.


15 comments:

prophecygirl said...

Such a shame that it didn't live up to expectations. I have this one in my TBR pile, and will get to it one day ;)

The Book Bug said...

I saw this in Waterstones and thought it looked intertesting enough. Shame you didn't enjoy it. Great review though!

Lauren said...

This does sound like an interesting premise, but you write very persuasive reviews and based on what you've said, I'm pretty sure I'm safe to give this one a miss. I've had that experience where a book seems to start getting interesting and then lose me again - it's such a disappointment.

Shweta said...

Summary did look exciting. But after your review I would definitely not be wasting time with this one.. You write such great reviews . I wish I could write a review at least 25% as good as this one. I am too impulsive with my reviews :)

Sasha said...

You've been nominated for an award at my blog

http://the-sweet-bonjour.blogspot.com/2010/01/heartfelt-award.html

Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Great, honest review! This is my first time hearing of this book, and I agree that the summary definitely caught my eye with all the ethical implications. I don't think I'll be picking this one up though if the characters aren't fully developed. *sigh* Such promise. Thanks for the review! :)

Kari (Flamingo1325) said...

Its always sad when books dont live up to what you hope. Thanks for the honesty.

Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Hey, Becky! I noticed you commented on my blog about doing a twitter discussion about Wake, and it sounds awesome. Only problem is: 1. I read it this week at the doctors (loved it!) and 2. I'm extremely busy this week. However, another commentor, Julie, said she would love to do it if you're interested. Here's her profile: http://www.blogger.com/profile/09728211953393442724

And if you still want to do it, maybe with someone else who can be there the whole time, I would still love to drop in and squeal with you over Cabel! :D

The Book Owl said...

Good review. Honesty is always best. I'd heard about this and was excited to read it, but now I'm not so sure.

Kirthi said...

This sounds like a good book, but I'm not sure I should read it when it only got 2 stars! I love honest reviews!

Book Monster said...

Awww I HATE, I absolutely hate, when summaries do not live up to the book. I see your point thought. Great review.

I Want To Read That said...

That's a shame - I liked idea behind it. Thanks for the review:)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great review. Thank you for your honesty.

Lea said...

Dang, and I thought that synopsis sounded pretty good, but your review has me thinking otherwise. Thank you for your honesty!

brizmus said...

The premise is extraordinarily interesting.
It's a pity it didn't turn out so fabulously.