Switchers, by Kate Thompson

Kate Thompson, rx of recently-reviewed The New Policeman fame, has, as I noted in the other review, written quite a few other books. Switchers is, obviously, one of them. Like The New Policeman, it’s got fantasy elements, and it’s set in Ireland. Unlike The New Policeman, though, it’s set in Dublin, and has a more urban and cosmopolitan feel to it. I didn’t think the specific Irish identity of the book was quite as necessary. Nevertheless, it’s set there. Ms. Thompson is of course Irish herself, and has a strong interest in the preservation of the language and the culture of Ireland.

Tess is a thirteen-year-old student in Dublin; her family moves a lot, due to her father’s (unnamed) job, but they have a good amount of money. She doesn’t really have any friends, and that’s mostly OK with her, because she has a secret: she can shapeshift into animals, and has been able to do so since she was seven or eight. One day, after school, a boy follows her around, asks her name, and is generally annoying — mostly because he intimates that he knows her secret. Does he? At the same time, the UN has been noticing that the weather is getting much colder — blizzards and freezing temperatures are moving into temperate regions at much earlier times in the year. What’s causing this?

I didn’t actually enjoy this book nearly as much as The New Policeman. Tess was a bland character; Kevin (the ‘boy’) was a little better, but he seemed to get angry at the weirdest things. The two main characters spend a lot of the book as rats; the rat language was probably the most innovative part of the book. The rat characters were at least lively. Lizzie, an old woman who used to be a Switcher (one stops being a Switcher at fifteen), was a little too out there for my personal tastes. Old cat ladies — or, I guess, a goat lady — are a dime a dozen, and it felt like Tess and Kevin spent an inordinate amount of time in her presence before she told them what they needed to know for the plot.

The plot was all right, but I didn’t believe in the existence of the Big Bad Plot Element. They were too outlandish for me, and I do generally read SF and fantasy. They were too big, too vast, too mindless, and too evil. Generally speaking, I like my plot elements to have a little bit of ambiguity, and there was no ambiguity at all. I did find the way that Tess and Kevin vanquished them to be intriguing and novel, but generally speaking, that wasn’t enough to make up for the issues I had with the Big Bad Plot Element. Overall, I did not feel that going through this ordeal was either going to change Tess fundamentally. Ms. Thompson tried to set it up as if it would, and there are some issues related to the ordeal that do change Tess a little, but they’re partially negated by the ending.

There was also a Big Reveal towards the end that I thought was unnecessary. In many ways, I thought that revelation made Tess and Kevin’s ordeal worth less. Sure, they’re still special in some way (they can still Switch), but they aren’t . . . quite as special. I apologize for the large amount of verbal equivocation and euphemisms used in the last couple paragraphs; I’m attempting not to give away too many plot elements. I can probably summarize this by saying that there were too many illogical, unnecessary, and/or unbelievable elements in the book to make it one of my favorites, or worth reading. If you want a book about child shape-shifters, I’m sure there are many better. Bruce Coville has edited an anthology entitled Shapeshifters, but I haven’t read it so I can’t officially recommend it. 2/5 stars.

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