Blue Fire by Janice Hardy
Summary: The Isles of Geveg might have escaped one disaster when Nya accidentally killed the Luminary of the Healing Academy (and in the process saved all of the young healers of Greg from his warped experiments) but war still looms large on the horizon as the Duke of Baseeri seeks to bring the islands and the other lands he captured decades ago under tighter control. Nya herself is now in danger as her mysterious Shifter powers have become well-known and there is a bounty on her head. Thus she finds herself on the way to the capital of Baseeri where new, even more terrible things are being planned and if she wants to save her friends she'll have to stop these plans and save everyone.
The Good: Despite the change in location a good chunk of the cast comes along and I really liked that, the bonds Nya had between her friends at the end of the first book was something I liked (especially since most protagonists tend to have only one or two close friends and they are always the opposite sex, more large groups of mixed-genders please!). Some more of Nya's own past is revealed in this book (something I wasn't expecting at all even though, in retrospect, not much was said in the first book) which combined with a few other things helped flesh out the overall conflict (the Duke vs everyone else) a little more and made the conflict less black and white. The idea of healers and healing being something that can be abused was even more explored in this story and by now I can never look at that trope again in the same way. In anime there's always a big hubaloo when a series (at least seems to) deconstruct a widely used trope so the trope is never used the same way again and this has been a huge deconstruction of everything that people normally associate with healers, I'm going to be so disappointed when I go back to stories that aren't nearly this creative.
The Bad: I'm still not entirely sure of the motivation for anything the Duke did but, given how many people in real life have conquered other nations because they can/ they're "supposed" to be the rightful rulers and people are forever developing new weapons for these causes so I can't call it unrealistic either. Speaking of weapons, to be as vague as possible, that big weapon I thought was one of the weakest points of the book and still feels like a weird, reverse-deus-ex-machina (diabolus-ex-machina?) and I just didn't like it. Thankfully it's not a major part of the story, it does it's job and then gets out of the way, but it still felt rather awkward to me.
So yes, I'm still really enjoying this series, although it'll probably be a while before I get around to Darkfall (ie, probably November), and I plan on buying the whole set someday when I actually have the money for it.