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shapeshifters

REVIEW: The Body Thief by C.J. Barry

REVIEW: The Body Thief by C.J. Barry

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.

The Body Thief by C.J. BarryCamille 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.
The dialogue reminded me of bad cop shows:
“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-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: Death Magic by Eileen Wilks

REVIEW: Death Magic by Eileen Wilks

Dear Ms. Wilks:

I loved the first and second book in this series but as the worldbuilding evolved and became bigger, I felt like I lost an understanding of the world. The book started out as a Pack book for me (Pack = werewolf) and has been transmogrified into world where every kind of magic exists from dragons to sorcerers to shapeshifters. There is earth magic, fire magic, water magic, precogs, and with each new book, a new element is introduced. The first book in the series, Tempting Danger, introduces Lily Yu and Rule Turner. (I’ve not reviewed that book here, but I did review the second, Mortal Danger). Lily Yu is a former homicide detective and a touch sensitive who was recruited to be part of the Magical Crimes Division of the FBI. Her supervisor is Ruben Brooks.

Death Magic Eileen WilksAside: I do not recommend that any one start with this book. I think they would be lost. I was kind of lost and I’ve read all the books.  I do recommend Tempting Danger and Mortal Danger and the seventh in this series, Blood Challenge.  I think a reader could read those three and not be lost.   “Tempting Danger” and “Blood Challenge” are my favorite in this series.  Both focus strongly on the Pack and the romance between the main characters.

Rule Turner is a Lupi or werewolf and the designated heir of one of the strongest, wealthiest Packs in North America. He also wears the mantle of another pack, something that is not supposed to happen. Lupi have fated mates and Lily is Rule’s. Over the course of the series, Lily and Rule struggle with their matebond, a mystical connection that is so strong that it is affected by even distance. In “Death Magic”, Lily and Rule move ever more slowly toward an actual marriage ceremony. I’m not certain how much time has passed since book 1 of this series, but I think it is a bit more than a year.

An enemy of the Pack, an old and powerful god that the Lupi refer to as the “Great Bitch”, is rising up bringing to life old magics and dangers that have not been experienced in centuries. “Death Magic” is a continuation of this overarching plot about the “Great Bitch” and her nebulous plans. Ruben’s precog gift is foretelling something dire and it is up to Lily, Rule, and the other members of their respective clans to discover what they can do to prevent the negative outcome foreseen by Ruben. Ruben sets up a Shadow Unit, to work outside of the Bureau and by the book Lily finds herself conflicted when Ruben asks her to join. Rule is more sanguine. He’s an “end justifies the means” kind of guy and doesn’t see a problem with Lily joining Ruben in order to stop a greater evil.

Lily’s hand is forced when Ruben is accused of killing a Senator.  Tensions are further raised when the Humans First, an anti magical group, gains in power and violence.  Finally, Lily’s life is in jeopardy as she begins to experience strange illnesses that may or may not be connected to a Lupi related power she acquired in a previous book.

While Ruben, a figure that has appeared briefly in all previous books, gets more face time and an interesting storyline, I wasn’t fully engaged. I think it comes down to my own expectations for this series. It’s called World of the Lupi, but I feel that the Lupi often aren’t the focus, but the world surrounding the Lupi is. For readers looking for a broad, full and diverse urban fantasy series with some romance, I think this is very satisfying. For someone who is looking for a strong romance arc in each book, I think some of the books including “Death Magic” will be a disappointment.

The great thing about this series is the diversity. There is diversity in race and religion both on the “good” and the “bad” sides. An effort seems to be made to show each character as an individual instead of a representative token for a particular subset of society. I guess my major problem is that I expected this book to be paranormal romance and instead it is more urban fantasy. I feel emotionally distanced from these characters and would like to see more movement in the romance/relationship. It doesn’t have the visceral emotional power of my favorites but it does move the plot forward.  B-

Best regards,

Jane

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