Review of Control by Kim Curran (Strange Chemistry paperback, August 6, 2013)
This young adult science fiction tale is set in modern day Britain and centers on a group of teens who work for the Agency for the Regulation and Evaluation of Shifters, or ARES for short. Shifters are people who can go back over their life choices and take an alternative path; normally, only teens are shifters, but adults can acquire the ability by having that section of a child’s brain that grants this power transplanted into their own, a surgical procedure that is highly illegal. Scott and Aubrey are teens who are responsible for finding those shifting adults and capturing them. Control is the second volume in the series with the first one being called Shift.
Shifters come in different types including ones who can use their abilities to influence the decisions of others. Running into an adult with this power makes Scott and Aubrey’s job very difficult and dangerous. Scott can remember the alternate realities that he was experiencing before the shift so he realizes when things change but not necessarily what was shifted to create the new reality. He can also fix things so other shifters can’t change their decisions. Aubrey can spot shift points but she can’t remember previous realities.
The two teens find all the adult shifters but one, of whom they can find no trace. Eventually someone who knows the adult gives them a clue and they are able to find the last one. The fight with the last adult shifter is complicated, dangerous, involves multiple shifts and some major society changes including one which has a major impact on Scott and Aubrey’s relationship. It will be interesting to see the story pick up from here because the tone will be very different because of the society changes.
Scott and Aubrey are interesting teens who seem typical of British teens, but for an American audience they may seem very independent for their age, particularly when it comes to getting around by themselves. Their relationship is kind of a blur between best friends and young lovers which is typical of teens, who often get together because they share an interest, in this case the ability to shift, which results in a job for a government group which acts as kind of a school for shifters. The Britain they inhabit is realistic, but the various shifts mean it is not our modern day Britain. It is interesting to see the teens running around Britain but a version which may suddenly result in a strange building or a missing building compared to our world. American readers should find the British setting interesting and informative without the story being filled with data dumps. Solving a mystery while people shift your reality results in some interesting changes and coincidences which allow Aubrey and Scott to find the last adult shifter but they are left in a very different situation in how the ARES operates and what each of their positions in ARES are. The next book will be in a universe which will have completely new rules from the one in place when this book started so having the characters explore that world will be interesting and different from the first two volumes. The characters and plot are interesting enough to keep an adult interested and the type of decisions the teens choose to change could be an important family discussion point if both young adults and parents read the book. For any readers of near future science fiction whether they be teens or adults, this is a good reading choice.
Review of The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce (Strange Chemistry hardback Aug 6, 2013)
This story is an urban fantasy, but the only fantastical elements are the ghosts seen by the main character. Taylor Oh is a 16 year old high school student who is not in the popular crowd at her school. Taylor is cursed such that if the ghost of a murder victim touches her, a black mark results and the only way to remove the mark is to solve the problem and help the ghost move on. School bully Justin and his gang torment Taylor and everyone else who is not part of the “in” crowd.
Things take a turn for the strange when Justin is murdered, and then his ghost touches Taylor when he realizes she can see him but does not realize what his touch will do.
There’s a small problem with removing the mark: Justin doesn’t know who killed him so Taylor doesn’t know who to go after to transfer the mark to them. Taylor has to spend time with Justin’s ghost and with his friends, and get herself into their group in order to find out the truth. This leads to some interesting changes among the personal relationships of the high school students.
The story is set in London and Taylor seems to be a typical teen other than the curse problem and the fact that her mother is dead. For American readers she will appear to be very independent and mature, and the setting will be interesting because of its cultural differences. The mixing of cultures and religions in neighborhoods without anyone thinking about it is common in Britain, but is different from the cultural situation in the US, so the way teens of different colors and cultures relate to one another will be an interesting discovery for US teens. The teens going into a pub will probably shock some American readers but this is typical in Britain. You think her high school is a typical one until she begins to understand exactly what the “in” crowd does in their spare time. This activity is what resulted in Justin’s death and the resolution for his ghost takes a long time and results in great risk to Taylor.
Taylor is an in depth character and you get a good depiction of her dad as well (and it is not a very favorable view of him or of his relationship to his dead wife). She has one friend named Hannah, who is poorly used by Taylor and gets somewhat the bad end of the situation by the end of the book. Justin is actually more of a character as a ghost than he is before his death because as a ghost he actually explains himself to Taylor, which he never did before he was killed.
The plot is structured much like a murder mystery since in this case the victim’s ghost doesn’t know the truth either, but all is eventually revealed and is more complicated than expected, being more motivated by the desire to keep secrets than any desire to kill Justin. Taylor makes some decisions which push her limits so extremely that you think she might break, but as many teens have shown, that age is usually able to bounce back from stress.
This is a good read for those who like a good ghost story, or like urban fantasy which is heavy on the urban and light on the fantasy (no elves or fairies here, just sometimes desperate ghosts). For American readers the London setting is different and enlightening. The interpersonal relationships are well done and most of the characters have something in them which can draw sympathy from readers but the father/daughter relationship is unusual in some ways, but typical once the father’s motivation is understood. The views of the different groups in the high school and what they think and feel is quite realistic and informative and could possibly be helpful for readers to understand groups they are not part of. Taylor switches groups as the book progresses so the reader gets multiple group viewpoints. This is definitely one of the most interesting and engrossing high school tales Your Humble Reviewers have read in a long time. It should keep other adults interested as well, plus the teen/parent issues could definitely make for some interesting family discussion.