Shift by Kim Curran
Review by Ryan Lawler
When your average, 16-year old loser, Scott Tyler, meets the beautiful and mysterious Aubrey Jones, he learns he’s not so average after all. He’s a ‘Shifter’. And that means he has the power to undo any decision he’s ever made.
At first, he thinks the power to shift is pretty cool. But as his world quickly starts to unravel around him he realises that each time he uses his power, it has consequences; terrible unforeseen consequences. Shifting is going to get him killed.
In a world where everything can change with a thought, Scott has to decide where he stands.
Reality bending novels, when done right, are pretty cool. I like exploring concepts like time travel, alternate realities, and the butterfly effect, so picking up a book like Shift by Kim Curran was definitely a no brainer for me. Curran takes these concepts and gives them the thriller treatment – I think you can best describe the whole story of Shift as one fast paced, easy to read, action sequence.
The premise sounds simple: What if you could change any decision in your life? What if you chose left instead of right? What if you chose to ride your scooter instead of walk? What if you could Shift the fabric of reality until you make a decision that has the most desirable outcome?
A simple premise in concept, but one that you have to immediately start applying limitations to if you want to create a world that resembles our world in any way, shape or form. This is where the complexity comes into Shift, and why it works better targeted at the Young Adult crowd. My analytical brain can’t stop probing the boundaries and limitations that have been set to keep this very powerful magic system in check, and on the whole not only do these limitations hold up under scrutiny but they are also used to establish some cool plot points.
The plot moves pretty fast, jumping from scene to scene, and keeping you on your toes the whole time by always introducing something new – new characters, new ways to use your powers, new limitations, new information about the world, etc. Also, each time a “big” shift is performed on a decision that happened a while ago, the whole fabric of reality rewrites itself so you are again kept on your toes as you come up to speed with all the new events that have taken place. This style of writing really pulled me through the story, but it also meant that I was given a lot of breadth of information with very little depth of information. This was a problem for me because a lot of the events in the story just seemed to happen, and while they all probably make sense if you have the right knowledge and context, the lack of information made a few of these events seem unlikely, inconsistent, or illogical.
When it comes to the characters, things play out similar to the plot in that there is a good breadth of characters, but with the exception of the main character Scott Tyler, you never get to see much depth to these characters. This is slightly symptomatic of telling a story from the first person perspective, but there are a few authors out there now showing that is possible to explore the depth of support characters despite being limited to the main character’s POV. For me this was a source of frustration because I can clearly see that there is a lot of depth to all of the characters in this book, but the pace of the story and the less than inquisitive nature of the main character Scott doesn’t allow you explore that depth. That said, you do get to explore a lot of Scott’s character in depth, a guy who at first glance is the snarky Peter Parker type of protagonist, but who has plenty of his own personality quirks and unique ways of assessing and dealing with situations. He is a reasonably straight forward type of character, quick to learn, fast to adapt, and his personality suits the pace of this story perfectly.
I had fun reading this book, and no doubt had I been ten years younger I would have thought this book was amazing. It does a lot of things right, putting interesting characters in difficult situations and forcing them to overcome the odds through proficient use of a complex magic system. But for me, as an adult reading a Young Adult novel, it was just lacking that special something that would have taken this from being good book for adults too, to a great book for adults too. An excellent debut YA novel from author whose star should now be on the rise.
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