Book Review: Shifters #5 – Shift

Title: Shift
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2010
Series: 5
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.23
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3


Plot Description: Whilst dealing with the aftermath of an attack by rival Alpha (and current head of the Council) Calvin Malone, the Sanders Pride finds itself attacked by a flock of Thunderbirds – supernatural creatures who are half human, half bird. Faythe finds herself taking a road trip with Kaci, Marc and Jace on a diplomatic mission to see if they can get the thunderbirds to stop trying to massacre their Pride.

In fact, the Thunderbirds are the only things Shift has going in its favour. It’s not, of course, the first time a new species has been introduced into the Shifters universe. Once the we, the readers, got over the shock of reading about werecats, the werewolves were mentioned. Briefly. Apparently they’re all extinct, but even a blessed mention is more than sufficient for the exhausted fantasy reader’s mind, which keeps trying to insist that we’re actually supposed to be reading about werewolves out of sheer habit.

The bruins – or rather, one Bruin (singular) – made their first appearance in Pride. Half bear, half human, solitary and rather given to hibernation, and yet the bruins are portrayed as far more human than the werecats who greatly outnumber them and are far more sociable to boot (in as far as ‘sociable’ refers to not attempting to kill everything that moves on impulse).

The Thunderbirds fall on the end of the spectrum directly opposite to that which is occupied by the bruins. They’re more fluid in their morphing abilities, not requiring time to shift from one form to another, and fully capable of going from human to bird (or vice versa) at an altitude of approximately Top-of-a-huge-freakin-mountain meters.

This means they’re far more removed from human civilization than are the other shifter species, possibly because there’s no way you can integrate when your young spend most of their time navigating that peculiar niche of life reserved for those sporting a wing and an arm each at any given point of time. That is to say, young thunderbirds spend all their time in a constant state of flux which they haven’t learned to control yet. Bit of a dead giveaway, that.

I found the careful construction of Thunderbirds as a species and a society far more interesting and far less annoying than I did the werecats. It’s not every day that you encounter a group that retains its status as The Other so perfectly, even after all the shades of grey have been pencilled in.

Faythe demonstrates some qualities in Shift that are supposed to be diplomatic in nature, and she doesn’t do too badly. This step forward in the character development department is, however, largely obscured by the dynamics of her botched relationships with both Marc and Jace and by the ugly rearing head of patriarchal oppression that isn’t bothering to conceal its views behind an insincere smile anymore.

The ugliness of the truths upon which werecat Prides have been built are hammered into the mind of the reader in Shift with about as much subtlety as is demonstrated by a blunt axe. This trend carries forward into Alpha and makes you want to keep quoting Faythe all the time:

“Don’t you bad guys ever get tired of the same old routine? You threaten rape, I kick your ass, and evil is defeated again. Couldn’t we shake things up? How ’bout you try to smother me with my fluffy pink pillow instead?”
Faythe Sanders, Alpha, Shifters #6

As this self aware quote illustrates, the heavy handed, black and white misogyny – a total contrast from the benevolent misogyny depicted in Books 1 and 2, and to a certain extent Book 3 as well – turns the Sanders Pride’s enemies into cartoonish rapist villains. This has the simultaneous effect of also white washing Faythe’s Pride. The Pride under Greg Sanders’ leadership, it is suggested, has always been a place where women are respected and revered. Examples put forward in favour of this argument include Greg grooming his daughter for the post of Alpha and the fact that Faythe’s mother used to sit on the council next to her husband.

Good points, both. Except it’s hard to see how exactly Greg groomed his daughter for command, apart from giving her a job as an enforcer (a job she landed after much negotiation and by threatening to run away from home multiple times) and allowing her to take over the planning of a couple of attacks in the previous books. Nowhere does Greg consider it important that he teach his daughter how to be a female Alpha. Unlike, say, Marc Ramos, who is his second choice for Alpha, Faythe cannot beat every challenger by dint of sheer physical strength. It was important for Greg to show her that being Alpha isn’t – contrary to popular belief – about your abilities to pound everyone else into the ground, but to be the master of every situation.

As for her mother’s seat on the council, Karen Sanders did take a seat at the head of the Council – by her husband’s side. That is to say, after her marriage and motherhood had deemed her respectable enough to be tolerated on the council. And then she stopped doing that once she had Faythe, who was a handful and needed all her time and attention.

On the other hand, a notable example against this argument is the fact that Greg and Karen tried everything in their power to get their daughter married by the time she’d barely hit eighteen, including locking her up in a cage. Another notable example is the rampant slut shaming that goes on amongst Sanders’ enforcers (such as Faythe’s brothers) and the fact that Marc’s abusive behaviour is accepted by everybody (including Faythe) as fairly normal.

Speaking of Marc and abusive behaviour brings me to what I was talking about in my review of Prey – namely Jace Hammond and his approach to relationships and prospective Alpha material. Unlike Marc, Jace doesn’t go around trying to mark his territory. When he wants to make out with Faythe, it’s not to prove a point, but because he genuinely wants to be with her. And when he’s aggressive towards Marc, it’s not because he thinks Marc needs to get off his porch, so to speak, but because he’s concerned that Marc’s short temper might result in him hurting Faythe.

In short, Jace is the only one who seems to even register the fact that Marc is an abusive piece of s**t. Sadly enough, he only realized this after he got together with Faythe.

“This isn’t about you….” “Well, it should be!” he shouted, and I flinched. “Everything I do is about you, and I want the reverse to be true, too.”
I wiped more tears, my throat aching with words that would only make this worse. “What, you need a reminder? That’s what he was doing, right? And now you smell like him. You probably taste like him. You should taste like me.…”
He was on me before I could even catch my breath, his mouth bruising mine, and after that, breathing didn’t seem so important. 

This quote (and the ensuing sex scene) [from Alpha, Book #6] was put up as the sexiest scene in literary history by someone. Personally, I don’t know how the words ‘flinched’ and ‘sexiest’ can even exist in the same plane.

Shift could have represented a great leap in character development for the young female protagonist of this series, but unfortunately, all one ends up seeing is a heroine who is severely disadvantaged both by patriarchal forces and notions, as well as by her own bad taste in men. The weak facade of an Alpha growing in strength and wisdom falls away almost as soon as a discerning eye is turned on it.

Next: Shifters #6 – Alpha


Book Review: Shifters #4 – Prey

Title: Prey
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2009
Series: 4
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.21
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3


Plot Description: Faythe, Marc and a couple of other characters are attacked by a group of strays while on neutral territory, and Marc goes missing soon after that. Prey chronicles the ensuing manhunt and the list of never-ending problems that rival Alpha Calvin Malone manages to lay at their door, both directly and indirectly.

Prey provides a very good set up for the next two books, complete with a high stakes finale. It also proves a turning point for Jace Hammond, who is the Adrian Ivashkov of the Shifters universe.

We need to talk about Jace. My reviews of the first three books in this series were too taken up with Faythe’s complex personality, and how it fits into this incredibly contradictory and patriarchal universe, and with Marc Rants. But now it’s time.

Jace Hammond is introduced in Stray via some mild sexual harassment. Well, it’s not technically harassment because Faythe didn’t really mind that this guy had suddenly turned up and put his arms around her, but I object to the fact that he expects she won’t mind. Standard of enthusiastic consent and all that.

Jace is promptly pulled away by two of Faythe’s brothers – Ethan (everybody’s favourite brother) and someone else. Jace protests that had it been Marc, they wouldn’t have done that, and they counter it by saying that Faythe would have taken care of Marc herself. It’s notable that Faythe’s agency only comes into play when there’s a dude they don’t approve of in the picture.

Jace, it soon turns out, is the anti-Marc. In fact, his persistence is the only thing he has in common with Marc in the romance department. Jace is respectful. Jace gives the fact that Faythe is someone with real opinions a lot of importance. Jace doesn’t walk around beating people up just because they’re encroaching on what he sees as his territory. This is because Jace recognizes the fact that Faythe is a woman and not actually territory, and that she has the right to take her own decisions.

Jace also has every bone in his body broken (more than once) simply because he dared speak to Faythe. Thanks a lot, Marc. You’re clearly ideal Literary Boyfriend material, right up there with Christian freaking Grey.

When Faythe and Marc resumed their abusive relationship, Jace was understandably bummed, but didn’t really do anything that would make him stand out in the ranks of ‘Good’ Literary Boyfriends – like inflict grievous body harm on Marc because he thinks she ought to belong to her. The points in his favour just seem to keep piling up, but that’s actually because the standard’s pretty freakin’ low.

In Prey, with Marc exiled and therefore not around to protect his territory, Faythe and Jace end up getting drunk and hooking up. I’m honestly not a fan of the ‘Guy gets his s**t together for a girl’ trope, but that’s basically what happened here, (and with Adrian Ivashkov) and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, Jace-wise. Suddenly, Jace is exploring a possible future he’d never imagined before – one that involves being Alpha-like enough to be able to marry Faythe. He changes. He’s suddenly more mature and responsible. Sadly, this also means he’s slightly more territorial – as is purported to befit an Alpha werecat. The difference is that Jace, unlike Marc, never lets his territorial instincts get in the way of Faythe’s agency.

This plot also allows Vincent to explore a subject close to my heart, albeit on a superficial level. With Faythe’s realization that she’s in love with both Marc and Jace comes the radical notion that it’s perfectly normal to love more than one person, and that that’s okay. In a society obsessed with monoamory, poly-amorous relationships rarely get the credit they deserve. And books 5 and 6 in this series take a look at some of the dynamics that would presumably be involved in a romance involving more than two people. While said study is admittedly more of a guide on what not to do, it still takes their relationship one step beyond the classic love triangle, and that’s something.

The pros of Prey are that it provides an action filled mystery and a thickening of the political plot, the better to explain the alliances formed in future books. The cons of this book are that the action is often slowed down by what can only be described as sheer stupidity on the part of the protagonists forming the hunting party for Marc. Oh, and that it features what can only be termed child abuse.

Kaci, the young werecat found in the previous book, is now living under the protection of the Sanders Pride. She’s extremely attached to Faythe, and follows her around all the time, hanging onto her every word and being extremely perceptive as to the dynamics of Faythe’s love triangle. But the one thing Kaci will not do is shift into cat form, and it has been repeatedly impressed on the reader that it’s important for the cats to shift regularly, lest they sicken and eventually die.

Traumatized by the fact that she had ended up killing several people while in cat form for the first time, Kaci refuses to shift. This does not, to put it delicately, have a good impact on her health.

As her de facto mentor, it’s Faythe’s job to talk Kaci into shifting. There’s also the option of medically inducing a shift, but Faythe refuses to allow this, citing a potential loss of Kaci’s trust. One would expect then, under the circumstances, that Faythe would put every effort into giving Kaci the therapy she needs and thereby getting her to shift.

This is precisely what Faythe does not do because she’s busy with enforcer work, and with missing Marc. And this is the point at which I stop making excuses for Faythe and call her an irresponsible idiot.

The mounting tension in this sub plot is meant to eventually pay off when Faythe talks Kaci into finally shifting, but this is honestly not the kind of plot that absorbs such a plot device. Being careless about the health and well being of minors under your care is not something to be taken lightly. Nor is it an easily forgivable offence.

As far as the plot is concerned, Prey provides a good set up for the final act of the story, but by itself, it’s bogged down by slow moving action sequences and slow thinking protagonists. Like with all the books in this series, it’s just interesting enough to make you wonder what happens next.

Next: Shifters #5 – Shift

Book Review: #Scandal by Sarah Ockler

Book Title: #scandal
Sarah Ockler
Year of Publication: 2014
Series: N/A
#: N/A
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.56
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4


Plot Summary: Lucy Vacarro’s phone is stolen on prom night and a bunch of inappropriate pictures uploaded to her Facebook account through it. All the subjects in the pictures – along with the rest of the school – is pissed at her, and resort to an extremely dirty bullying campaign for revenge. The novel follows her as she tries to figure out who did that, tries to deal with the fall out, and tries to repair her relationship with her best friend Ellie, while simultaneously trying to deal with her feelings for Cole, Ellie’s ex boyfriend.

I picked #scandal rather randomly from a reading list without even bothering to look at the blurb. And I’m glad I did that, because blurbs often give you a mini summary that is supposed to give you pre-conceived notions about a book. And #scandal isn’t a book you can enjoy if you have pre-conceived notions about it. This is also possibly because the blurb gives off an obnoxious vibe.

Lucy Vacarro learned how to avoid the spotlight by observing celebrity Jayla Heart blah blah blah.

Stop a moment, blurb writer. Let Lucy tell me what she wants to avoid and how she does that.

#scandal is deliciously subtle in a lot of ways. One thing I’ve come to appreciate about YA fiction is the emerging diversity trend. I’m aware that there are people who mock this trend as a jumping-on-the-liberal-bandwagon kind of thing, but it’s necessary. Even if authors are doing it now because everyone else seems to be doing it, that’s a GOOD thing. Issues of race, sexuality and disability need to be visible, and not in a put ’em on a pedestal and stare at ’em kind of way. These issues need to be acknowledged as very real parts of the very real life we live.

Take Asher, the head of (E)VIL – a school society dedicated to fighting ‘vanity based technology and social networking’. Asher is a high school kid in a wheelchair, something that wasn’t immediately obvious to me because there were no neon stickers pointing to his character going “HEY THIS GUY IS DISABLED TAKE NOTE”. I happen to be the worst kind of speed reader – I skim through everything. (I really want to know what happens next, and it makes re-reads so much fun). So when something’s not pointed out to me in neon stickers and capslock, I slot those characters into the default – into all of our default, because let’s be honest, we all do it.

So Asher Holloway was white, straight, and walked on two legs, as far as I was concerned, until I figured it out halfway into the book. And I like that, because the book made me challenge my shameful assumptions, reminded me that I’m making an ASS out of UMPTION, whoever Umption might be. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that little joke, but you’re going to have to read the book to get it.) Like with Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, the reader is forced to confront intersectionality.

The major theme of this book is obviously not intersectionality, but cyber bullying. Now, I’m going to have to take the author’s word for it that American high schools work the way they’ve been portrayed in the book. That said, from all of my reading of troubling news reports on high school rapes and cyber bullying in the US of A, it does seem an at least slightly relevant portrayal. (Steubenville, anyone?)

I read a lot of reviews on GR that opined that the book hadn’t taken the issue of cyber bullying seriously. I don’t see how, to be honest. It portrayed an issue that becomes slightly meta, because everyone involved is simultaneously both victim and perpetrator. And not only does #scandal manage to get its anti-bullying message out loud and clear (mostly in the form of Asher Holloway and the rest of (E)VIL telling people it’s not okay), it also shows you how the average strong minded teenager might realistically react to nonsense being thrown at them. Lucy Vacarro is no one-dimensional heroine in the sense that she doesn’t stick to just (a) being stoic and ignoring the haters, (b) breaking down and crying all the time, or (c) getting angry and yelling at everyone. In fact, she does ALL THREE, because all three are legitimate responses that might occur to the average human being. No one is stoic through and through. No one is emo through and through either.

While maintaining that she didn’t post those pictures, Lucy also refrains from pointing fingers until she had hard proof – which turned out to be a good thing, because her guesses as to the culprit were all wrong. And despite her constantly putting herself down as a judgmental bitch, – and before you ask, yes, she is quite judgmental in a non malicious kind of way – it’s also ultimately clear that Lucy’s a very good person at heart.

The romantic aspect of the book was kind of a drag for me, but I don’t think that was the author’s fault. I just happened to be really into the whole mystery solving and fighting of social injustice aspects of the story. So I kinda got annoyed every time all the sleuthing was interrupted just so Lucy and Cole could mouth sweet nothings at each other or make out a little bit.

I noticed one GR reviewer state that Cole is definitely her New Literary Boyfriend. In my opinion, Cole’s not literary boyfriend material because we don’t really know anything about Cole except that he has a penchant for making witty remarks. You know who is literary boyfriend material though? Asher Holloway, that’s who. [Yes, that guy’s made a major impression on me. If you read the book, I’m ninety five percent sure you’ll like him too.]

In fact, with the exception of Cole, practically all the guys who’ve been introduced were awesome. Asher. Franklin, the editor of the largely unread school newspaper. John, the dude who’s going to be America’s second black president. 420 aka Lucas, school stoner and Dorito expert. I mean, Cole’s great, but he’s terribly boring and also he puts his foot in his mouth a lot.

The book touches on a number of social issues without pushing them in your face. Ellie has two awesome moms, actress and school alum Jayla Heart is forever being punished by the tabloids, Lucy (while still a minor) was hit on by an older dude at her sister’s party and then insulted for rejecting him… All issues that would merit 2000 word posts on social justice, but the book gets the message across all the same by not engaging directly with them. Instead, the reader is left with a niggling irritation that’s gotten under your skin, and which makes you examine yourself AND the story so you can figure out why you’re bothered by it.

#scandal is a great light read, especially for those who prefer YA fiction. It’s also a good take on important and relevant issues, it’s realistic, and none of its characters can be accused of being truly uni-dimensional. In short, it’s a great way to pass a few hours without having to numb your mind completely.

Next: Bibliophile Mystery #2 – If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle