When your average loser, Scott Tyler, meets the beautiful and mysterious Aubrey Jones, he learns he’s not so average after all. Turns out he’s a ‘Shifter’ – he has the power to undo any decision he’s ever made.
At first, he thinks the power to Shift is pretty cool. But as his world quickly starts to unravel around him he realises that each time he uses his power, it has terrible unforeseen consequences. In a world where anything can change with a single thought, Scott has to decide exactly where he stands.
And that’s the blurb – hats off to Strange Chemistry for not blurting a slew of spoilers in their back jacket sales pitch – it’s a refreshing change, these days. So… a young male protagonist written by a female author. Does she pull this off? And does the engaging concept and cool cover signal that newcomer Strange Chemistry is a publisher with the same solid credentials as parent company Angry Robot?
This is a rite of passage novel with geeky Scott an outsider – until he gets a rush of blood to the head and attempts a stupid stunt that goes badly wrong to impress a beautiful girl and finds himself Shifting… And before you know it, he’s pitchforked into a weird parallel world where he is learning skills he’d never dreamed of. However, these skills have downsides – big ones. There are a raft of unpleasant, highly dangerous folks out there, and this book may be YA, but it’s very much at the crossover end of that age range – there’s a fair amount of graphic violence.
Scott is a solidly satisfying protagonist – he has sufficient vulnerability and bloody-minded spikiness to be appealing without coming across as unrealistically ‘special’. The book’s pace whips along at a fair rate. In the initial chapters, I’d pegged it as a college coming-of-age story, but it soon morphed into a broader storyline. Curran manages to set the parameters of her world, while the bodies start stacking up and Scott finds himself in the middle of the action, without easing up on the whirlwind pace or dropping the tension. I sat down, intending to dip into the book during a free half-hour – and became hooked.
Curran has a gift for writing characters you care about – I also thoroughly enjoyed reading about Aubrey. One of the rules about Shifters is that the ability manifests itself when they are children, but once they become adults, they lose it. So this secret organisation, charged with some highly secret and responsible tasks, is reliant on children and young teenagers – it really is a very enjoyable concept that I’m hoping Curran will continue to expand in future books.
There was a lot that could have gone badly wrong in a book packed with action, with a science fiction twist on teleporting that has certainly been done before in the likes of Stephen Gould’s Jumper. The fact that Curran manages to produce her own version of this concept with such authority and verve is a testament to her skill as an author. If you enjoyed urban fantasy, but are now heartily sick of vampires, wolves and various supernatural beings, give Shift a go. There may not be a space ship in sight, but this science fiction adventure is great fun – and you don’t have to be a teenager to thoroughly enjoy it.