The Shapeshifter’s Secret by Heather Ostler

June 14, 2012 Reviews 2

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review. The following contains mild spoilers.

She tried telling herself to stop, but it was useless. Something had fully claimed her mind and body. A sound began to erupt from inside her chest, a deep sort of growl that seized her entire being. She felt as if there was a grizzly bear inside her, trying to escape. And then a deafening roar echoed from her mouth, only inches away from Lancer’s face. It took everything inside of her not to attack him.

In Julia’s life, timing is everything. Like the time her paranoid father put bars on her window so she wouldn’t sneak out at night—even though she’s never given him a reason not to trust her. Or the time this weird new kid showed up at her school and pretty much every girl in sight instantly and inexplicably fell in love with him. What was up with that?

But as time moves on, things in Julia’s life go from strange to seriously impossible. Now it’s all she can do to keep herself and the life she’s always known from falling apart.

My notes for this novel clearly indicate how I felt about it – I have extensive notes on the first hundred pages, and then just three comments for the rest. The beginning of the book is haphazard at best, non stop action with no reprieve and no time to process what is happening. Which means that 60 pages in, I had no idea what was going on. There is a lot happening and suddenly, Julia ends up in another dimension, at school learning to shapeshift into a tiger.

After the hundred page mark either the book got better, or I got used to the writing style of the author, because I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. There were still a few things that I did not like, but overall the book improves a lot once all the information dumps are out of the way and it was easier for me to lose myself in the world that Ostler has created.

At times book reads like a draft – everything could be tighter and sharper. There is a tendency for the author to over explain everything – every look, gesture and facial expression is accompanied by an unnecessary explanation. I also noticed an overuse of qualifiers that make it seem like Julia is always experiencing an extreme form of any emotion – she swings between elated and severely depressed or very angry and very excited.

Julia is a very difficult character to like. She acts a lot younger that her supposed sixteen years – some of her reactions are extremely juvenile and I had a hard time taking her seriously.  Obvious facts overwhelm Julia, but she takes surprising twists in stride. She also takes a long time to figure out things, which is frustrating because she is unduly surprised or angered as a consequence. Julia is constantly seeking new information but when it is offered to her she has tantrums because she ‘doesn’t want to know’.

While she has no problems with her best friend Sierra keeping secrets from her for years, Julia stops talking to Caleb because he neglected to inform her he has a girlfriend, despite only knowing her for two days. I would have been more forgiving if Julia harboured feelings for Caleb, but she doesn’t, so I am left mystified why she treated Caleb so badly and took such a strong and instant dislike to his girlfriend. Equally unexplainable is her swift attraction to Terrance. I couldn’t fathom why she is attracted to him at all, but by the end of the novel he had gained my grudging respect.

One of the final things I will mention are the unmistakable throwbacks to Rowling’s Harry Potter. The otherworldly school Julia is taken to resembles Hogwarts, and not only because of the castle it is situated in or the sumptuous meals served there. A twist in the story where mysterious writing is found on wall reminded me strongly, in both wording and intent, of the ominous words “The chamber of secrets has been opened, enemies of the Heir beware!” Even the dynamic between the trio is similar, but with the genders reversed: Julia is obviously the leader, mysteriously connected to the villain of the story, Sierra is her loyal best friend and only voice of reason, and Gabriel is a walking encyclopaedia of facts.

The Shapeshifter’s Secret is obviously a debut novel, with all bumps and quirks associated with debuts, but there are moments in this novel that are amazing. If you get through the first hundred or so pages, then I believe you will enjoy it for the same reasons I did.

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2 Responses to “The Shapeshifter’s Secret by Heather Ostler”

  1. Giselle

    I get annoyed when plots and books look too much like Harry Potter or Twilight. This sounds pretty good though I haven’t seen very many reviews on it before. Also – props to you for taking notes >.< That's something I could never get myself to do but would help with reviewing sometimes.

  2. VeganYANerds

    I guess it must be hard as an author these days and not find yourself being heavily influenced by books you’ve read, especially best sellers. At least the book got better and not worse, that’s always a good result!

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