June 24, 2010

Review: Shapeshifter

Note: Today is the last day to suggest an insult for Lauren Mechling and Lauren Moser's online serial novel MY DARKLYNG.

By Holly Bennett
Available now from Orca
Review copy


While I'm not most familiar with Irish mythology, I do enjoy it quite a bit. (After all, I do consider myself Irish.) I loved seeing an author play around with a short episode in The Fenian Cycle, as opposed to the more popular Ulster Cycle. I also liked that the publisher included a translation of the original episode for comparison. (Do be careful about reading it first, if you aren't familiar with the story, since it will spoil things.) Readers will also enjoy the glossary, since Irish names often have tricky pronounciations. Holly Bennett makes the fortunate decision to use the romanization Sive for the protagonist instead of Sadhbh.

Sive was the first wife of Finn mac Cumhaill (whom you may know as Finn McCool), a Sidhe woman trapped in the body of a deer. Bennett explores how Sive first came to the attention of the evil druid Far Doirche and turned into a deer. In Bennett's telling, Sive was not turned into a deer by the druid but turned herself into one to escape his unwanted attentions. Sive's singing could charm anyone, and Far Doirche wants access to her power.

I thought Bennett fleshed the story out well, developing an interesting and original cast to accompany the epic figures. She did have little sections marked off by [Character] Remembers . . . that I thought were fairly useless. The book was in the past tense and slipped into people's heads anyway, so the those sections felt redundant and flabby. (Actually, almost all of Bennett's use of POV tricks could've been tightened up.)

The ending, focusing on Sive and Finn's son Oisin, moved a little too quickly for my taste. SHAPESHIFTER truly is Sive's story, but I would've liked to get to know Oisin as well as Sive. SHAPESHIFTER is fairly short, so it probably wouldn't have tasked readers attention spans.

SHAPESHIFTER contains adventure and romance, but will probably appeal most to people interested in mythology. If you aren't familiar with Irish mythology, SHAPESHIFTER is a good place to start. It doesn't ask you to come in familiar with the stories. SHAPESHIFTER is a little rough, but still good light entertainment. The language is easy enough for preteens, but there are oblique sexual references.

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