Book Review: Shiftling by Steven Savile

17912072Title: Shiftling

Author: Steven Savile

Genre: Horror, Dark Fiction

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Goodreads

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

One summer in 1985, the funfair came to the sleepy rural town of Ashthorpe, and with it the smells of hot dogs and candy floss, the allure of magicians and the Big Wheel, and the sounds of young girls giggling. But what promised to be the highlight of the season for a band of teenage boys soon turns to tragedy.

Years later, when Drew receives a mysterious phone call, he learns one of the most important lessons life has to teach: the past can never be forgotten.

For the past wears many faces, and some of them are drenched in blood.

Shiftling didn’t appeal all that much to me, at first glance. I’m not a huge fan of shifters in general, and the title suggested this would be another, albeit darker, werewolf story. But after reading a few more titles by the publisher, all of whom I enjoyed – some more than others – I was curious. Plus, seeing as this is a novella, I figured it would be a quick read.

Trust me, Shiftling isn’t about werewolves or anything at all. It’s far less cliché than that. However, the premise sounds like a bit of a cliché, I’ll give you that. Something happens during the summer of 1985 that continues to haunt the main character, Drew, until present day. Where have I heard that plot before? Oh, like in a bazillion other horror stories. Either way, I decided to read the book just for the heck of it, not expecting much.

Drew and his gang of friends, Scotty and Spider and some others who’s names I’ve already half-forgotten (they didn’t matter as much as the two mentioned) want to go to the fair. The year is 1985. Problem? They don’t have enough cash to go to the fair, so they start doing a bunch of odd jobs to get a sufficient amount of cash to go to the fair. One of these jobs includes working for Old Man Hamilton (okay, I’m not sure on his last name, I forgot, and I’m too lazy to check), an obscured, freaky old man who lives in a dilipidated building in the middle of nowhere. The old man agrees to have them tend his garden. For free. Which not everyone likes, but for some reason, Scotty, Drew and Spider agree to do it. Then Scotty gets a mysterious guy from the old man, and what ensures is a tale of darkness – of monsters and humans, of a past drenched in blood.

Mr. Savile manages to conjure a story that’s both dark and unsettling, but at the time starts of light and casual. It starts with introducing us to the main characters, and all seems nice and great. There’s a certain innocence to the young boys, a playfulness that seems lacking in today’s society. But the tone grows increasingly darker and more threatening. When Scotty and Drew confront the monster, their innocence is ripped away, and they’re left as mere shells of their former selves. The events that transpired have an effect on everyone, not just the boys in question. This novella has an astonishing amount of depth to it. The author manages to paint the gang of friends very convincly, as well as the strange events happening to them. The past is seen as something wonderful and amazing, but at the same time, dark and threatening.

The story may not be the most original, but the way Mr. Savile makes the characters and setting come to life is sublime. The monster encountered is convincing, and the effects on the present day life of the main characters, very unsettling. Well-written and thought-provoking, this novella is a must read for fans of dark fiction. My only pet pevee – and why I gave it a four as opposed to five star rating – is how easily I figured out what was going on, and the whole Spider business. I won’t say anything more as not to spoil anything, but that part of the book was a bit predictable.

Comments

  1. Surprised the author gave you a free copy of this and you didn’t even bother to get the names right. An “honest” review it might’ve been, but a polite one it seems not.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      1) The review copy was provided by the publisher, not the author.
      2) Can you point out the name I got wrong? Or are you talking about my comment about how I couldn’t remember the names of all secondary characters, just the main cast?

      It’s a 4-star review, and upon rereading it, I don’t see anything impolite. However, what I find rather impolite, is the tone in your comment.

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment, but a more polite tone would’ve been more appreciated.

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