Shapeshifters can turn into perfect copies of people – any person – with just one touch. And that doesn’t just mean appearance, that means their memories and skills as well. One touch and they can become them any time. After one shapeshifter nearly bankrupt a city, the US military quickly intervened under a secret executive order and all shaepshifters are found and imprisoned – raised, trained and by the army in brutal surroundings. Evading them is a crime, free shapeshifters are hunted.
Jace has been in the army prison since she was 5 years old. It was hard, it was brutal – and she is both of those things. She also wants to be free… which means earning her freedom
Gray ran, he’s spent his whole life on the run, but he’s finally been noticed and hunted. Gray’s freedom may be the price of Jace finally escaping.
This world is an interesting wrong, bringing in shapeshifting as a power and mixing it with elements of mind reading to make a truly original and rather frightening story. Beings who can read the minds and memories of those they have turned into – the threat they represent is incredible which in turn leads to them being brutally oppressed and denied anything resembling rights as human beings – this widescale kidnapping and holding of them works and remains realistic in the story simply because they never forget how much of a threat they are – we are constantly reminded in subtle ways just how dangerous a shapeshifter is.
I think the world building also works because there’s a limit on anything else out there. Gray and his sister have a form of telepathy that suggests maybe there is more out there, but the author has resisted the temptation to crowd the story. We have one supernatural, we have the world adjusted to control and use this supernatural. This is their stories – we don’t need other psychics, weremoose, and-whatever-monster-we’re-calling-fae-this-week.
This tight focus works to keep the story moving – and makes it a very good first book. We get the characters introduced, motivated and developed in excellent but not long winded detail. Everything is focused on them and their journey so you really get to know these people without distraction. The world isn’t overly complicated nor is the story confused or twisted – it’s pretty focused. The military controls all shapeshifters (to stop them running amok in uncontrolled ways and to use them to run amok the way they want to) in, basically, a prison. Jace can earn her freedom by serving her masters – and that serice means bringing in shapeshifters who have managed to dodge the system; like Gray.
It’s not a complex or twisted story (though there are elements of one to come in future books). But it’s clear lines let us focus on the characters, let them explore this (again, not overly complicated) world and establish everything perfectly
And this is ideal because I love the protagonist, Jace and Gray. Starting with Jace: ok, I would expect someone raised in a government facility to be rather more brainwashed than she was, but that’s clearly not been the way she was raised and there’s some quasi explanation for it. The main reason I like her is that she has all of the usual excuse we have for a complete arsehole of a character – the tragic past, being completely friendless, being relentlessly bullied and constantly having to fight for her place – yet she isn’t that arsehole. She’s hard. She’s harsh. She’s unforgiving and uncompromising. She has a control streak 10 miles wide But she’s fair within her own rules, she’s willing to fight for other people as much as for herself. She has a strong sense of duty even if she doesn’t like or isn’t particularly nice to the people she feels dutiful towards (or if they don’t like her either). She has a short temper, but it doesn’t reach the comical levels we see so often in the genre with protagonists lashing out like berserkers at the slightest thing. And she’s selfish – or, rather, she’s focused on her own goal. She wants to get out, she wants to escape the prison she has lived in all her life – and if that means she has to work for an organisation she loathes and even hurt someone else in the process – well, needs much. In fact, she’s not selfish – but she isn’t a martyr. And that doesn’t make her a bad person – she does what she has to within the limits of her terrible situation