Shift, by Kim Curran

  • TITLE: Shift
  • AUTHOR: Kim Curran
  • PUBLISHER: Strange Chemistry
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 6th September 2012 (UK)

When I pre-ordered Shift, by Kim Curran, a mere handful of weeks before its release, I did so on a bit of a whim—it was another Strange Chemistry title and being so enamoured with the idea of the imprint and eagerly awaiting the eventual releases of Laura Lam’s Pantomime and Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse, I hopped on the bandwagon and despite not being totally sold on Shift, ordered it anyway.

It’s not my usual thing: I like my sci-fi in some far-flung galaxy, or on the far reaches of space/civilization. When I watch films, I don’t mind storylines with similar set-ups to Shift—I was actually put in mind of the film (which may or may not be based on a book, if memory serves) Push—but I tend to turn right off if books like that are nudged my way.

I actually only read Shift as soon as I did because I’d just eaten two other books in close succession and I needed something fun and quick to read. Shift not only didn’t disappoint, but exceeded my expectations, thoroughly.

Scott Tyler is your average sixteen-year-old, the kind that thinks he’s less than he is; beaten down by the “cooler kids” at school, out-classed by his little sister, and generally either forgotten about or used as ammunition or backup by warring parents bent on weekly character assassinations of each other over dinner on a Friday. But Scott is also a Shifter—and a powerful one, too. Only, he’s never Shifted before, and he doesn’t even know what Shifting is. That is, until he accidentally shifts one night when he’s somewhere even he knows he shouldn’t be, and with people he has no good business being with. Instead of a deadly fall from a pylon he only climbed because it seemed like the “cool”—read as “stupidly daring”—thing to do, he falls flat on his proverbial after flopping slightly less heroically off a fence.

As if it’s not bad enough that Scott remembers climbing—and falling—from much further up, everyone laughs (including his “friend”, Hugo…nice) and he feels like his one chance at fitting in just got grounded. Then a pretty girl, who looks at her cigarette with a decided concentration before smoking it, as if she’s making a profound decision, looks at him, takes him to one side and… arrests him.

Apparently, he’s guilty of Shifting in public, without permission—and that’s bad. Scott might agree, if he knew what Shifting was and what it was he’d done wrong. Luckily, Scott seems pathetically clueless enough that Aubrey—fast becoming the new centre of Scott’s universe—believes him when he claims to know nothing. She takes him with her and explains everything clearly and in detail. Between learning about ARES and a chance meeting with the SLF and drinking a little too much of the booze that Aubrey seems to drink without a problem, Scott ends up at Aubrey’s place, on her sofa, with too much info and not enough processing power.

He’s pathetic, useless and gets to thinking about what Aubrey told him… about Shifting… and he wonders… if he just…

Before he knows it, his world is upside down, people are dead, and he’s in big trouble. What began as a stupid reaction, the desire to be cool and accepted, turns into a nightmare that reveals Scott as a powerful Shifter with the power to undo his decisions and recall the consequences of each different reality. On one side is ARES, offering training and guidance and a place to belong and on the other is Aubrey—who is part of ARES, but not by choice, pushing him away from the organisation and towards induced entropy—and the mysterious SLF who keep popping up and whose charismatic leader gets right under Scott’s skin and flashes big on his Do Not Trust radar.

When Scott sails through the ranks and is partnered with Aubrey things start to get worse when he narrowly Shifts and avoids being killed as part of a suspected SLF attack. Then a body he and Aubrey found, victim of a gruesome murder at the hand of a brain-nibbling loon, is marked down as suicide and only he seems able to remember the original reality before the sneaky Shift that changed it.

Something is up and things are getting deep, only Scott is a complete rookie and doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, or who to trust—all he knows is that he can Shift, remember what happened in the previous realities, and that people are dying. Knowing that only the SLF can be behind it, but thinking that something still seems a little off, Scott starts investigating as best he can, only to find himself knee-deep in the middle of a conspiracy bigger than he or Aubrey could imagine. But when it comes to protecting his friends and himself, Scott pushes inexperience and mediocrity aside and steps up to the game.

Shift is a story about belonging, about believing in yourself and about trusting yourself—things that are difficult for anyone. At some point in their life, everyone feels substandard, useless, worthless, trodden down and as though they simply don’t belong. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or has never thought about it. It’s part of being a living, breathing person and has little to do with growing up. That’s why Shift, along with most of the Strange Chemistry imprint appeals so easily to the teen market and to the general adult market: they recognise that everyone who wants to  can identify as a young adult, as a teen. It’s refreshing.

Shift is also about fun, as well as being about consequences and choices. It’s a surprisingly pacy, engaging and exciting adventure that takes itself just seriously enough to succeed at what it sets out to do, whilst remembering that it’s okay for a story to be fun and funny and enjoyable to read.

It’s a story of friendship and acceptance and of being the best you can be, even if it takes a while to realise your potential. It’s a damn good story and hits the spot just right.



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