Blue Fire (The Healing Wars: Book II) written by Janice Hardy, 373 pp, RL MIDDLE GRADE

One of the (very few) downsides to writing this blog is feeling like I don't have the time to read more than the first in a trilogy or series of books. Tunnels series by Roderick Gordon and ND Wilson's 100 Cupboards trilogy are among the few I have taken the time to continue reading and reviewing. Add to that short list, Janice Hardy's Healing Wars Trilogy. Book One, The Shifter, caught my eye earlier this year when I saw it on the shortlist for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize and I am thrilled that book three, Darkfall, is out now. But first, book two, Blue Fire.

In The Shifter we met narrator Nya de'Analov, a fifteen year old orphan, and learned about the hostile occupation of her homeland, Geveg. We also learned that Nya is a Healer, like her younger sister Tali and her mother and grandmother before her, but that, unlike these Takers, Nya cannot take the pain from an injured or sick person and dump it into the enchanted blue metal, pynvium. Instead, she can only shift it from one person to another. When she first discovers this she is frightened by what she sees as a freakish mutation of an honorable skill. She quickly learns that this oddity brings with it profound moral and ethical dilemmas, especially when her talents are noted by a truly despicable man referred to as a Pain Merchant.  Through him, she is forced to make a horrible choice that brings about death but also reveals another frightening aspect of her talent. Nya learns that she can flash the pynvium, causing it to explode and knock out (or worse, depending on the size of the pynvium chunk) anyone nearby, making her even more desirable by evil forces. And there is an evil force at play, the Duke of Baseer. While he is a more prominent figure in Blue Fire, he continues to be a shadowy figure with an unknown ultimate goal. He advances his quest to amass all of the pynvium in the region as he builds an unstoppable army while carrying on with his round-up and experimentation on all of the Takers he can hunt down, even capturing Nya and using her powers to fuel his evil contraption.

An aspect of Healing Wars that I find innovative and fascinating is the continual internal struggle that Nya faces after discovering the complexities and dangers of her unique talents. She goes from being a child trying to keep herself and sister, her only remaining family, alive to the figurehead and eventual leader of an oppressed people in revolt. Actually, she faced ethical dilemmas before as she found herself forced to lie and steal as she struggled to care for herself and her sister after being left orphaned and homeless some five years earlier. After discovering the twist in her Healer abilities, Nya confronts issues of class and cultural discrimination and must struggle with choosing who and when to shift pain into. However, in Blue Fire Nya faced with the most crucial decision of her life when she has to choose between rescuing her friends, who were imprisoned because her talents have caused the Duke to put a price on her head, from certain death or save her sister from the Duke's camp where he turns Takers into the Undying, brainwashed, pynvium armored ruthless killers. Nya agonizes over her choice then spends the rest of the book worrying and plotting to get back to Tali. Reunited with Jeatar, a Baseeri spy from The Shifter who did as much as he could to help Nya, she, Danello and Aylin are taken to his secret compound outside of Baseer's capitol. There she meets Ondeeran, a Baseeri noble and Enchanter who has been helping Jeatar to overthrow the Duke. Nya senses something familiar about him and soon uncovers his true identity as well as that of Jeatar. This throws her into another profound questioning of herself, her family and her country.

Nya is a character who is constantly attempting the impossible and usually accomplishing it in one way or another. I think it must be very tough to write the second book in a trilogy and make it read like it is something more than a link between books one and three. While Blue Fire definitely does link The Shifter and  Darkfall, it stands out as a complete story on its own with Nya's grief over the loss of her sister powerful and moving throughout the story and a really great shocker that compounds this grief. Because Blue Fire takes place almost entirely in Baseer, a country that was only spoken of in The Shifter, it has a new and different feel to it. Hardy introduces new characters in Quenji and his gang of streetwise urchins eager to help Nya, Danello and Aylin in their efforts to find Tali and stop the Duke. Hardy also brings more adults into the story, both good and bad, as well as a compelling history for Nya and her family that adds another layer of meaning to the story.

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