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.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Faythe's faction is just a couple of days from launching a direct attack on the bad guys, since Malone seems to be winning the political fight, and our guys will go to civil war before they'll let him run the show (which includes handing out their women as prizes). Nobody is aware of any threat when Kaci gets snatched by a giant bird. Her captor is barely able to carry her, and Marc, Jace, and Faythe manage to catch up on the ground and win the fight with a couple of other birds before they can get her into the getaway car. They get Kaci back and capture one bird; the others escape. The prisoner is very uncooperative at first, but breaks down under a little psychological torture and reveals a little bit. He's a thunderbird. They're even more secretive than the werecats, and nobody even knew they existed. But one of their guys got killed by one of Malone's werecats (the cat took exception when the bird tried to steal his kill), and Malone managed to use his super villain lying powers to convince the birds that the Saunderses did it, and further that the birds should abduct the tabbies before he attacks. The birds' next move is to besiege the Saunders' house, attacking anyone who shows themselves from the air. Faythe digs out the only gun in the house and tries to use it to force them to back off. They get Blackwell, the interim council head, off to the airport, apparently half convinced that Malone is a scum. (Since he's one of Malone's votes, he could tip the balance.) Then Faythe calls Brett Malone, whose life she saved in a previous book, and convinces him to squeal on his father. But his father catches him trying to leave and kills him. Greg decides that they can't sit under the siege, so he orders the girls, Manx' baby, and Teo, who hopes to win Manx' favor, to bug out while they make a diversion. Faythe is expected to rebel but goes along. Obviously, a plan this obviously stupid has to go badly; one of the birds drops a rock on their car, and in the ensuing fight, Faythe and Kaci get carried off. They wake up in a cliff dwelling in New Mexico and manage to make the birds doubt Malone's veracity and honor, but not enough to be ready to actually let them go. When Faythe says she'll get proof, they let her go but hold Kaci hostage, with a promise they will kill her in two days unless Faythe returns with the proof. Marc and Jace pick Faythe up and they hop a plane to Kentucky. Jace remembers that he and Brett had a secret hideout as kids, and they check it out in the hope that he stashed the dead bird's feathers, with Lance (the killer)'s blood, there. They find the hideout. It's very rickety and Faythe is the lightest, so she climbs, despite her broken arm. She finds the evidence, and then falls through a rotten board and cuts her other arm badly. Marc manages to capture her and they get out, but then they realize that while the evidence will be solid for the werecats, the birds don't have their keen sense of smell and won't be able to tell by scent whose blood is on the feathers. So they decide that they will have to bring Lance and make him testify. They assume the birds will kill him, but they'd let Kaci go. Jace comes up with the idea of accepting his mother's invitation to come home for Brett's funeral, which seems a little better than a frontal assault. Faythe decides that she's going to have to make herself heal, so while Marc is shopping she has Jace give her a bath to soak the cast off. Marc doesn't like finding Faythe naked with Jace, but Faythe continues to sit on the secret and manages to calm him down. The shifts she has to go through are the most painful thing she's ever faced, but she does it, and after several shifts she's semi functional. Marc and Faythe send Jace off and sneak into position. They come upon two of Malone's goons digging a grave and talking about how it will be for Jace, so they go in. Jace and Faythe are losing the fight to the two goons. Jace manages to get himself untied and gets a knife to Alex' throat, but Dean manages to grab Faythe and hold a knife to her. While Marc is taking forever to show up, Dean deliberately cuts Faythe on the face so that she'll be scarred. When Marc finally shows up, she manages to stab him with his knife and kick him in the balls. Then Marc breaks his nose and cuts him, but Faythe, not willing to let him suffocate on his own blood, releases his gag, and he tells Marc what Alex had apparently figured out, that Faythe was fucking Jace. Faythe isn't able to outright lie, so now Marc knows, but she somehow manages to get him to remember Kaci and not have the fight right then. They get away with the immobilized Lance and have a very uncomfortable non-stop cross country drive back to the birds' base, where they arrive just in time to beat the deadline. Faythe manages to convince Lance to try to go to his fate with a bit of dignity, but when it appears that the birds won't let him live, he snatches one of their kids. And when they refuse to agree to let him walk, he steps off the ledge holding the kid. One of the birds manages to break their fall, landing so that he breaks a wing but Lance is unhurt and runs off into the woods. Faythe convinces the birds to carry her and Kaci down, and to call off their own hunt so they can hear Lance and track him down. They catch up to him and Faythe tells him that if he gives her the kid, she will let him go -- but she hadn't mentioned that Marc was behind him in cat form and wasn't going to let him go. Faythe orders Marc to execute him for the werecats his actions got dead, and to give him a quick death where the birds meant a very slow and painful one, and then hands the kid and Lance's body over to the birds. The birds acknowledge that they owe Faythe a favor, and they would prefer that she claim it and get the slate clean, but Faythe isn't sure what to demand so she waits. Faythe calls home, and using her cell phone the birds call off the siege and Greg releases Kai.
I was very evasive in my spoiler-free comments above, but I really want to rant a bit about the Marc/Faythe/Jace love triangle. Before this book I was a bit more sympathetic to Marc, but in this book, he comes off as such a jealous bastard that I'm liking him less. Jace seems to honestly want what's best for Faythe, and he actually seemed to say at one point that he could accept her still being involved with Marc, but he needs her as well. Marc, on the other hand, seems less open to sharing than ever before. Jace does not want to kill Marc, but Marc does want to kill Jace, and if they do fight, they won't stop until at least one of them is dead. I was really worried that Vincent would cop out and have the bad guys kill Jace. The fact that Marc knows now, and he and Jace haven't killed each other yet, is a tiny ray of hope that they could actually clear this up. I want to see the three of them happily in bed together as intensely as I think I've ever wanted any romantic outcome in any book I've ever read, but I'm not sure that I could believe it if it happened.