"The Shifter," Jean Johnson

Pros: Still loving Jean’s world and characters
Cons: Didn’t grab me quite as much as the previous book (Shifting Plains)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

In Shifting Plains, a woman named Tava feared all shapeshifters because of what her mother endured at their hands before Tava’s birth. Eventually Tava discovered that those shapeshifters were renegades, and not at all representative of their culture. Now that the Shifterai as a whole know about the violent, brutal “Clan Mongrel” (as they call themselves), they’ve sent a group to hunt down evidence of what’s really going on. Among those sent along is Kenyen Sin Siin, brother-in-law to Tava, a strong shifter in his own right.

It doesn’t take long before Kenyen stumbles right into trouble, and ends up having to masquerade first as a renegade, and then as an innocent townsperson. There’s a big wrinkle adding to his headaches, though: the human whose face he wears was working with a young woman named Solyn to figure out what’s been going on as their village has been infiltrated by the Mongrels. She’s used to having to be wary of anyone who doesn’t act quite as they should, but usually because those people are being more cruel, violent, or rude. Now her best friend has returned from a trip and he seems… matured, more certain of himself, and if anything, even nicer.


 

Jean Johnson’s The Shifter continues her style of sweet, often playful erotic romance paired with interesting fantasy world-building. This book, however, is a bit heavier on plot and action than some of her others, although I still wouldn’t recommend it to someone looking for an action-heavy read; Jean’s pace is more exploratory. (Not a negative as long as that’s something you enjoy, which I do; just not everyone’s cup of tea.) I enjoyed the twists and turns this one took, particularly the revelations of what the renegades are after and why.

It’s nice to see a follow-on to the issues raised in the previous book, and I suspect there’s yet more to come, and look forward to it. Her novels since the Sons of Destiny series have stood quite well on their own (and she went to great lengths to make even the books in that series as readable as possible on their own as well), but I do recommend in particular reading Shifting Plains and Finding Destiny.

I recently went back and read the very first four books of Jean’s earlier eight-book “Sons of Destiny” series, and I’m amazed to see how far she’s come in polishing her skills as a writer. I enjoyed that series, particularly as it improved with each book, but in these later volumes there’s less overuse of italics, more likeable characters, a better sense of pacing, and a much greater ability to keep the vast wealth of details straight. I already look forward to each new volume she puts out in this fantastic, complex world of hers, particularly when she explores various cultures and how they intersect. If she keeps getting any better I’ll be reduced to compulsively checking whether she’s put out a new book every week!

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