Dear Ms. Barry:
In my hunt for more shifter books, I came across your November title. I had heard good things about you in the past. Your book, Body Master, won the 2011 Winner of RomCon’s 2011 Reader’s Crown for Best Sci-Fi, Futuristic or Time Travel. Reader’s Crown was a reader judged contest and I thought I would give this second book in the Shifter series a try.
Camille Solomon is a Shapeshifter, a being from another planet who has come here with other Shifters to begin anew after being forced off other planets. The number of shifters is very small and they are largely feared or hated by humans and with good reason. Shifters can take the form of any human so long as they have the human’s DNA. This has led to shifters assuming the identity of humans and wreaking havocs with the stolen person’s life. Griffin Mercer, a XCEL agent, was the victim of a Shifter identity theft. The Shifter took over Griffin’s life, ruined his marriage, killed his partner, destroyed his career, and took down his credit rating. Griffin’s only chance at redemption is this project which is to find Shifters who may be destroying property.
Griffin’s career is supposedly in ruins but he is charged with leading a huge task force to bring down Cam and then coerce her into hunting other Shifters. This operation is for “national security” and under the auspices of the Director of EXCEL, Roger Harding. Roger is the villain in this book but as a villain he’s fairly cartoonish and I think part of the problem is the inconsistency and unbelievability in the worldbuilding that leads to Roger as a caricature instead of a character.
In chapter one, Griffin notes that the orders that he carries out came from a special senate committee and that “His assignment had come from the above Harding’s big head, and that’s really why Harding hated him.” Yet, throughout the book, Harding answers to no one and runs XCEl as his own little fiefdom, declaring agents as “outlaws” (perhaps a riff off the Mission Impossible movies) and ordering killings. Griffin, whose orders and assignment come from above Harding’s head according to chapter one, decides to go rogue in effort to discover the truth behind the role that he has been given by Harding.
Every time Harding would engage in an act so outside the purported interests of XCEL, I kept wondering why he wasn’t require to report to any one given that this project of national security came from people above him. In other words, how was he carrying out this massive chemical warfare of genocide without it getting to the people who actually were in charge? Who was funding it? In only a year, he was able to get some scientists to develop a chemical that would adversely affect Shifters, an alien population?
Most of the first 60% of the book consists of Cam and Griffin going out each night and looking at ruined property sites and thinking to each other that the elements in the scenes aren’t making much sense. I found this part of the book incredibly boring. It actually took me three weeks of dedicated effort to even finish the book.
It wasn’t just the weak worldbuilding which only involved science fiction tangentially in that Cam is a Shifter from another planet and instead was much more of a boring police procedure novel which involved good Shifters trying to take down a megalomaniac whose goal was to bring down the tiny Shifter population. It was the writing itself. The prose contained cliche after cliche:
- Playing with fire had always been one of her favorite pastimes. Besides, she was in full control and held all the cards.
- So much for having the upper hand. This wasn’t her first rodeo.
“Yeah. Didn’t catch your name.”“Don’t give one,”
There was misused verbiage:
I didn’t ask to be born this way. I didn’t ask to be dumped here on your pithy little planet with its pithy little people. You all think you’re so special.
Your terse little planet? Your concise little people?
Cam was the more interesting of the two. She was forced into hunting other Shifters against her will. They have captured her father and she decides that she’ll participate in their project so long as they will search for her brother. She needs him to save their father. She struggled with acceptance of her own Shifter identity. At one point, she says that she feels her Primary Shifter body was ugly. She expressed distaste at being a shifter at all and her character arc includes coming to terms with her gifts, her race, and growing her self esteem. But most of that character arc was buried under the mundanity of the plot.
There was some discomfiting racial depictions. In Cam’s primary Shifter form, she was all black, a blank canvas:
Her Primary form was a charcoal black humanoid-like body that was just female enough to be interesting. Her skin was smooth and tough, like a formfitting bodysuit. Her face was more delicately featured than the male Shifters he’d seen, her body leaner, and her frame tall and leggy. In Primary form, shapeshifters were like blank canvases.
Later, Griffin thinks of Cam:
In Shifter form, black skin muted her features. But in his mind, he saw her red hair and ivory skin.
Cam, herself, finds her Shifter form ugly but was she only beautiful to Griffin with red hair and ivory skin? Later he says that he doesn’t find her ugly in any form and there isn’t any mention of her skin again. I’m unsure what to make of it.
In all, I found this to be a disappointing and fairly boring science fiction/fantasy romance. C-