Kim Curran – Shift

When your average loser, Scott Tyler, meets the beautiful and mysterious Aubrey Jones, he learns he’s not so average after all. He’s a “Shifter” – 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 results in terrible, unforeseen consequences. In a world where anything can change with a single thought, Scott has to decide exactly where he stands.

Shift is one of the launch titles for the new YA imprint for Angry Robot, Strange Chemistry. So this is a double debut, not just for the author, Kim Curran, but for the imprint as well. So there’s a lot of pressure for Shift, and its launch sister, Blackwood, to do well, both for their authors and the publisher. And as far as Shift is concerned – I haven’t read Blackwood yet, look for a review of that one in a week or two – it bears up under that pressure beautifully.

The premise of Shift is very interesting. Who hasn’t wished to be able to go back and take a different path, a different decision? Shifting is the answer to the eternal ‘What if?’-question. Similar ideas have been explored in the past of course, mostly in films, such as Sliding Doors, Jumanji and Galaxy Quest. However, I’ve never seen it done the way Curran conceived it. Though I kind of glazed over at the quantum physics – hard science is definitely not my forte – to me the scientific explanation for the Shifting Scott is given by Aubrey seemed plausible enough. During the narrative Scott learns even more about the mechanics of Shifting and while we never learn exactly what the ability to Shift is, whether it is akin to magic or a superpower, it becomes very real. I loved the fact that it is finite, that once they hit their twenties, and presumably their brains have completely matured, the power fades. It actually makes me wonder whether it’s to do with hormones or whether it’s to do with growing up; certainly, the older we get, the more regrets we have and the more we ask ourselves what if or just wish we could undo that one decision because we are more prone at looking further down the line at the effects of our choices. At least children seem to shake such thoughts of far more easily. Perhaps we’ll find out more about this in the sequel that will follow Shift in 2013.

Curran’s protagonist, Scott, was wonderful. I liked his development through the novel, going from a, self-proclaimed, loser to someone with a purpose and quite self-confident. Perhaps it was also due to the fact that I rather identified with him, I was a super awkward and insecure teen from a breaking home as well, so I understood his initial delight and urgency at being able to get away from his situation by joining ARES, the organisation that regulates Shifters. However, the second time Scott shifts is horrifying and Curran manages to depict Scott’s terror very well. She manages to convey emotion and human interaction very well in general; the connections Scott builds with his fellow Freshers are funny and touching at the same time. Similarly, I loved his feelings for Aubrey. It didn’t feel like insta-love, though there is an immediate connection, but it’s more lust than love on Scott’s side, as is only proper for a sixteen-year-old boy, isn’t it? It’s only later, after they’ve gone through some really frightening things together that Scott really falls in love.

Shift is very tightly plotted. The twist with the ultimate bad guy totally surprised me, but in hindsight the signs were definitely there. I love when an author manages to do that to me. The only thing that felt a little rushed was Scott’s training as a Shifter, though I can also see why this section would be abridged, since Shifting training isn’t very visual and action-filled, beyond the physical training we’re shown and endless repetitions of the latter aren’t entertaining either. Still, I have a weakness for training montages and school scenes, so I would have enjoyed just a few more Fresher scenes.

Shift is a very strong first novel and I look forward to reading more from Curran. Her writing was great, very British in flavour and very pacey. Not only did she manage to make an interesting premise believable, she created a cool protagonist, who was surrounded by fabulous secondary characters – I mean, how hilarious and infuriating was Commandant Morgan? – who reacted in believable ways. It’s a story that will appeal to teenage boys as well as girls, which is always a bonus in my point of view. Shift is an awesome debut for Curran and an awesome launch title. If this is an indication of what we can expect from Strange Chemistry in the future, there are a lot of fantastic books in our future.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.