With Darkfall Janice Hardy brings to a close her amazing trilogy, The Healing Wars, which began with The Shifter and continued with Blue Fire. As always, the superb cover art is by the James Brown of kid's book cover illustration, Brandon Dorman. For an interesting look behind the scenes of how a cover is created, as well as incredible instruction and advice on writing a novel, check out Janice's blog, The Other Side of the Story.
With Darkfall Hardy delivers on the promise of the trilogy title, The Healing Wars. Jeatar and his Underground movement have been discovered by the usurping Duke of Baseer and forced to move from the capital of Baseer to a hidden farm in the countryside, which also means that Nya is forced to move farther away from the Undying (a hideous, unstoppable soldier created by the Duke) training camp that she believes Tali has been sent to. As Nya slowly moves forward without her sister, sometimes with the uninvited help of Danello, Aylin, Quenji and his gang, she faces new challenges. Nya makes the portentous decision to return to Geveg when rumors of the death of the Governor General, put in place by the Duke of Baseer, emerge. Thinking that the people of Geveg are forming a rebellion amidst the flow of refugees from the Three Territories, Danello and Aylin yearn to return home and join the fight. Nya does as well, but is haunted by her decision to leave Tali any further behind and reluctant make another move without her. In a surprising twist, it is this move to return to Geveg that reunites Nya and Tali. However, the reunion is not a happy one. Tali has become one of the Undying: brainwashed, shellshocked and dangerous, no matter what Nya does for her.
With The Shifter Janice Hardy posed interesting moral and ethical questions surrounding the ability to heal the sick and wounded and the opportunity to relieve and eliminate pain and suffering for humanity. By the time the events of Darkfall are in set motion questions of healing, class and cultural discrimination are pushed aside as a full scale war is about to break out. As word of Nya's unique skills at shifting pain and exploding pynvium spread after her dynamic escape from the Duke's creepy pain machine, the people of Geveg begin to look to her as a hero and even a leader. The Sainters, a group of quasi-nutty religious types, begin to spread the word that Nya is a saint come to earth to save the oppressed. Nya laughs this off but still finds herself swept up by the massing rebellion when she returns to Geveg and meets up with the leaders. Again and again Nya is forced to make difficult decisions (and painful mistakes) and it is easy to forget that she is a teenager. I felt myself literally breathing a sigh of relief when Jeatar showed up and removed some of the weight from her shoulders. With Jeatar at the head of the rebellion and his true heritage revealed, the reality of the unwinnable war they face becomes very evident. Troop numbers are thrown out for both sides, weapons are counted and tactics are gone over again and again. What the rebel army lacks in number and resources, they make up for in ingenuity and skill - Nya's skills, to be exact. The Duke is a master at crafting frightening, malicious uses for pynvium, but Nya and the rebels come up with some creative ideas of their own.
While most of the book is taken up with the preparations for and waging of war, Hardy continues to fill in the gaps in Nya's history and that of her ancestors, as well as the events surrounding the Duke's rise to power. Nya even makes a wrenching trip to her childhood home, which was usurped by Baseeri nobles some ten years ago. One of the most unique aspects of Hardy's trilogy, besides her brilliant creation of the power to shift and heal pain, is the geography of her books. Hardy says she imagined a mixture of Venice, Italy and Lake Victoria, Africa with a bit of South Florida thrown in when she created the world of the three territories. I love the descriptions of Geveg and Nya's visit to her childhood home is especially rich with details that add layers to the setting, which really can be counted as a character in its own right in this trilogy. Add to that the homey colloquialisms, created by Hardy, that pepper the story and you have a complete world that is one readers will find themselves immediately immersed in.
As with Blue Fire, it is hard to write about Darkfall without revealing too much of this fast paced story. New characters are introduced again, old ones return, but Nya is still the star of the show and, as narrator, rightly so. It is a thrill to be inside her head, sharing her thoughts, her sorrows and her decision making process. There is even a bit of a budding romance between Nya and Danello and, while it is nice to think that someone is feeling protective of her, there is never a moment's doubt in the reader's mind that Nya is completely capable of taking care of herself and most everyone around her in any given situation. In Nya, Hardy has created a captivating, flawed, struggling hero with a unique voice. This, combined with the fascinating setting, makes The Healing Wars trilogy one of the most exciting middle grade reads I've had in a while.
Readers who like Janice Hardy's trilogy might also enjoy this series by Philip Reeve:
Although not quite the physical force to be reckoned with that is Nya de'Analov, Fever Crumb is a pretty cool hero making her way in a post-apocalyptic world nonetheless.
I reviewed book one in the series, Fever Crumb in hardcover. The new paperback cover is a bit different and sorely lacking in the ominous glare of Fever. Book III, Scrivener's Moon is out in the UK now and should hit the shelves in the US in 2012.