Review of Infected: Shift by Andrea Speed

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Shift is the fifth book in Andrea Speed’s Infected series.  This is a tightly linked series and the books should be read in order.  This review may have some spoilers for previous books in the series.

It’s a typical day for Roan McKitchan in that there was nothing typical about it.  His new client is a wall of a man who just happens to be a hockey player with a 10 year old case involving a transgendered person’s suicide that just might be murder.  Roan’s relationship with his artist/bartender boyfriend, Dylan is especially rocky these days and all his friends seems to think that Roan is so depressed that he is seeking to die.  And then there is that little matter of another possible aneurysm next time he shifts.

When his partial transformation is caught on tape and uploaded to YouTube, the crazies start coming out of the woodwork with vicious attacks on himself and those close to him.  Everything about Roan’s world is in flux, his stress increasing, and yes, his depression is getting worse even as his virus mutates yet again. What is he to do when the shifters start to look to him for leadership just as he is  struggling to handle all the major shifts in his life?  Leader or vigilante? Life or death? Roan needs to find those answers himself and soon.

Shift picks up the story of Roan where Freefall left off as everyone around Roan is still reeling from the aftermath of Roan’s brain aneurysm.  The fact that Roan survived the unsurvivable for no discernable medical reason has left Roan, Dylan and his circle of friends on edge with Dylan especially fragile. Still sustaining himself on drugs and partial shifts, Roan McKitchan tries to continue business as usual.  But his reckless behavior and depression has seen his relationship with Dylan grow increasingly problematic as the daily stress that is Roan’s life and his precarious mental state leave Dylan’s composure in shreds.  What others see as his suicidal tendencies, Roan believes to be his normal state, at least for him. To Roan, his outlook and actions are in tune with someone uncertain of his humanity and life span.  And as we get pulled deeper into latest Infected novel, the story of Roan McKitchan and the cat virus continues to shift and evolve, turning into a series as unpredictable and infectious as the virus itself.

Andrea Speed’s spectacular talent ensures that we are able to absolutely understand and empathize with Roan, one of the most unique characters I have come across.  A virus child who lives and thrives against all odds and laws of nature, Roan’s “fuck you’ attitude is at odds with his bruised romantic soul.  Roan constantly lives with the truth that he is mutating along with the virus and we feel his terror and pain as the virus mutates and shifts his view of himself from human to monster.  One of the threads that keeps him tethered to his human status are his boyfriend/husbands as Dylan continues to anchor him in the present as Paris’ ghost visits his dreams to comfort and annoy. Roan’s such a complicated character as one would expect of a man bedeviled by his abusive past and mutating physique.  One can be reading along, laughing out loud as Roan muses on the state of music, societal goings on, whatever grabs his attention and then suddenly plunges us into tears with remembrances of Paris, the victims that cross Roan’s path, and Roan’s very real fears for his future.  From his music to his t-shirts and books, Roan is a character so remarkable in dimension that  finding words to do him justice is confounding at times. I may not be able to explain satisfactorily explain the beauty that is Roan but it is clear from book one that he is one that will always stay with you.

Dylan is another unexpected character who continues to grow with the series.  As the boyfriend with the unenviable task of  following in the footsteps of Roan’s soulmate, Paris, it would be as easy to dismiss him as other characters in the book do.  A Zen Buddhist, his calm outlook is constantly under attack by his role in Roan’s life,  and by Roan himself as his infected status throws them all into daily turbulence.  Dylan has always seemed to accept his secondary place with Roan, but that starts to change here as the doubts creep in.  I found this so authentic and wonder where Andrea Speed will take this romance.  It is Roan’s nature to be a monogamist but there is more to be considered here.  The lion’s needs must be brought into the equation as well and here the relationship with Dylan seems less certain.  The lion clearly loved Paris, a tiger shifter who was Roan’s equal if not more in so many ways. And as I watched Roan and Dylan struggle to maintain and strengthen their relationship, the thought remained in the back of my mind “what does the lion think of Dylan as a mate?” Can a lion accept a lesser human?  And for me their future together got blurry. And that just points up the strength of Andrea Speed’s writing.  She has the reader constantly thinking about the events and relationships in the story, nothing is concrete, everything is constantly shifting, including our perceptions.

Shift is divided into two stories as is typical of this series. The first is Shift. It is in this section that a wonderful group of characters is introduced, the Seattle Falcons, minor league hockey team.  While Roan has always had a small group of friends, with the addition of Grey, Scott, Tank and others, a  wonderfully crazy element of support for Roan has been met.  All strong, with a love for a fight, these modern warriors have depth beneath the hockey player stereotypes that made them instant favorites of mine, especially Grey.  I hope to see them often along with Holden, Dr. Rosenberg, Dee, Fiona and the rest of the circle that revolves around Roan.  The case Grey brings Roan is heartbreaking in content and conclusion.  Bloodbath is the second story in the novel and aptly named as the blood flows through all the events in this tale of vengeance and vigilante justice.  There is a common link of attacks between the two stories that  remains unsettled at the end as does so much else here.

The virus remains a phenomenal character all it own, as it’s continuing mutations bring new challenges, questions, and pain to Roan, Dylan and everyone else around him.  Andrea Speed has sprinkled some truly tantalizing notions throughout the novel, a sentence here, a snippet there, that had the ability to bring me to an absolute standstill when I extrapolated them out in my mind.  One involves a painting Dylan had in mind when thinking of Roan and wondering if it could happen.  Where that thought took me made me breathless with anticipation for Roan and his future.

So this rollercoaster called Infected has come down from the stratosphere, depositing me earthbound once more, leaving me with more questions,more stymied and with more anticipation than ever before. What a magnificent job Andrea Speed has done with Shift.  I can’t wait to see where she takes Roan next.  I will be sure to follow.

Cover:  These Infected covers are fantastic.  Art work by Anne Cain, design by Mara McKinnon.  Dynamic in graphics and design, I just love them.  They are available also as wallpaper on Andrea Speed’s website.

The Infected series in order they should be read to fully understand the characters, their backgrounds and storylines:

Infected Prey

Infected Bloodlines

Infected Life After Death

Infected Freefall

Infected Shift

Review of Mind Magic by Poppy Dennison

Standard

Rating:      4.5 stars

When Simon Osbourne starts hearing the cries of children begging for help in his head, he tries to ignore them.  It’s against the rule he is governed by to interfere as he is an apprentice mage and the children in danger are werecubs. But as the cries continue, he feels the children weakening and decides to act.  Under the darkness of night, Simon steals onto the grounds of a house in the woods, and finds five were children being drained by a demon.  Using the magic tricks he has learned as an apprentice, Simon frees the children and drives them back to the Wolf pack compound outside of town.

Grey Townsend, alpha of the High Moon Pack, has been going crazy ever since his son, Garon and four other children were stolen from the compound.  For two days, the pack has searched but all traces of the cubs are gone, along with hearing their mind speak.  When a strange mage brings the children home, Gray owes Simon his gratitude and trust, not something the weres give to the Others.  Little is known about the Others except that the groups stay away from each others societies, segregated by rules and laws arcane in nature.  Then Simon saves Garon from a demon attack for the second time, and Gray admits they need Simon to help solve the mysteries before them.  Simon loves the family life he sees in the pack and is attracted to the handsome Alpha, Gray.  With the pack and their cubs still in danger, Simon and Gray come together to help find the demon behind the attacks and begin a possible relationship.  But Simon’s actions have repercussions within the Mage Society and he could lose the one thing he has wanted all his life if he continues on this course – the chance to be a full blown mage.

Mind Magic combines so many of my favorite elements in one book.  It has shifters, vampires,  and demons with different takes on all.  In this universe magic is divided up into a triangle.  At the top point is the Head Magic of the mages, another point is Body Magic of the shifters with the final point that of Soul Magic (demons/vampires).  As the author sets the stage in her world, all magical beings have long thought the division between them to be rigid and final. But with Garon demonstrating an aptitude for mind magic as well as body magic, Simon, Gray and the others begin to understand that all is not as they have been told or seems.

Dennison’s alternative world is a wonderfully compelling place that pulls in the reader  completely from the very beginning and doesn’t relinquish its hold even after the story is finished.  I love the notion of the magical divisions and her unique take on all things fantastical extends to shifters and vampires.  Recently I was reading a note on the shifter thread at GoodReads where someone wondered about the difference in body mass between the human and  animal forms that disappears from most shifter fiction.  Dennison addresses that question as her shifters are much larger than the natural wolves, something that doesn’t appear often in shifter fiction.  Her shifters live in a pack in adhering to wolf natural history.  Her vampires and mages get the same attention and neat twists to them, especially her vampire who takes very little blood, only enough to sustain his magic.

The author also excels with her characters, both main and secondary.  Simon Osbourne is kind, gentle, appealing in every way.  Here it is the mages that lead a lonely life, isolated from their families and others which is used to a nice contrast with pack life.  Simon yearns to be a part of a family as his backstory makes plain.  Simon has a love of herbs and plants that his grandfather passed on to him which gives Dennison a chance to go into herbology with lovely results.  I fell in love with Simon quickly just as Gray and the children did.  Definitely not a case of “instant love” as Simon must earn Gray’s trust.  Gray Townsend is a great addition to shifter Alphas out there. He is steady, older, a wonderful father and pack leader.  Slowly Dennison shows us Gray’s history as the story continues with another interesting twist on an Alpha coming of age at 30 to emerge as leader of the pack,  Gray is a family man who takes his responsibilities seriously and still has an open outlook on the world around him.  Of all the characters in the story, it is the mages who remain the most hidebound, strictly adhering to the old ways and narrow outlook on the world around them.  Then there is Goran, Aunt Maggie, and Liam and Cormac, Simon’s “grandfather”. terrific characters, as fully fleshed out as the main characters.

Mind Magic combines some of the most wonderful supernatural elements, tosses it with a good dose of herbology, great characters, and an ongoing mystery to create a story that will continue past Mind Magic. My only quibble is that the end came sooner than I had expected and left me with more questions than were answered. But that makes sense as Mind Magic is the first in a new series called Triad Trilogy.  The next books are Body Magic and Soul Magic.  Poppy Dennison promises that we will be seeing all the wonderful characters we met here again as the series continues.   Great job, great story.  And I have a new author to love.

Cover:  I love the cover by Anne Cain.  That is Gray is every respect.  How I love her artwork.

200 pages in length.  Published by Dreamspinner Press.  Find out more about the author here at her website.

 

Note;  The next edition of Vocabulary Gone Bad will be posted next week instead of today as promised.  Sorry, guys but inspiration hit and I have to add it in somehow!