Today's book review is Shift by Rachel Vincent.
This is book 5 of the ongoing werecat series. It tells a fairly complete story, but actually understanding the characters would be difficult without reading the earlier books. This episode is fairly well tied up, but the ongoing story is still frustratingly unresolved.
I just finished this book a few minutes before I started writing this, and I'm arguing with myself about what I want to write. Perhaps this is a signal that I should sit on it for a couple of days, but if I do, I am likely to put it off until I forget a lot.
This book introduces a new species of shifters. Since they come in in the first chapter, I'm going to decide that I'm within my own spoiler limits to mention them, because my initial reaction to them was sour. Up to now, the shifters in this world have been sort of believable as heretofore unknown biology, but the new race challenges physics a little more aggressively, and forces me to push my perception of the world from almost scientifically viable (despite a couple of howlers in the earlier books) to an almost Harry Potter level of "it's magic; either you just go with it, or you can't read this book". But after a couple hundred pages of letting that settle in, I realized that Vincent has created a culture for the new shifters that's quite a bit different from the werecats or from my own culture, but that is fairly internally consistent and roughly as ethically defensible as the werecats -- but the two are alien enough to create a messy conflict, from which we get a lot of our story, and it's well handled. It's the most original and thought provoking thing in the series so far.
We also spend a lot of time continuing to worry at the main romantic plot of the series. We started out the book in a very uncomfortable place (for the characters, and because the characters work, for me), and we've stayed true to the characters and not gone for the cop out that I was afraid I saw coming. Which means that by the end we've had a lot of pain and made a little bit of progress, we're still in a really uncomfortable place, I hate it, and I have to admire the author for capturing the human condition (even if the characters aren't quite human), because people really do act this way.
There are certainly flaws. There are bits of the plot that feel contrived. But somehow, despite their considerable moral ambiguity, I'm still pulling for the characters, and they make it worth the ride. 8 out of 10.
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