Review: The Shifter by Jean Johnson

Posted May 15, 2012 by B. in 3 stars, Paranormal Romance, Rating B Tags: , , ,

The Shifter
Author: Jean Johnson 
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Shifting Plains #2
ISBN: #978-0425247334
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Format(s): Paperback (320 pgs), e-book
Book Source: Publisher
About the book:
Before the Sons of Destiny came to be, shapechangers ruled the heart of a shattered empire and navigated the uncertain shifts of fate…
Years have passed since there was any sighting of Family Mongrel on the Shifting Plains. Yet traces remain, and they lead south into the Correda Mountains. As a favor to his brother and sister-in-law, Kenyen Sin Siin has taken it upon himself to track down these hints from the past and make sure the curs have not survived. The trail grows colder, more tangled, until he’s trapped in a valley where not everyone is as they seem.  He will either adapt and survive or be uncovered and perish before his mission is complete.
Wary of strangers and distrustful of the unfamiliar, Solyn Ys Rei and her best friend have formed a secret resistance. One of a rare few with the ability to stand up to and evade enemies, she must still tread with great caution, particularly when even her best friend starts acting oddly. Allies could be enemies lurking in disguise, and a stranger’s face could hide a new foe as easily as a new friend.
What B is talking about:
Solyn Ys Rei, daughter of the local healer and blacksmith, and her best friend, Traver, have a big problem. Once honorable men of their village have become cruel strangers seemingly overnight, leading the two friends to suspect that the men are no longer who they claim to be. 
Hoping to step out of the shadow of his older brother, Kenyen Sin Siin has joined the Shifterai warband sent out to find evidence of a group of outcast shifters who call themselves “Mongrels.” These criminals have banded together, seeking to force their wills on the unprepared locals, and eventually seek vengeance on the very ones who punished them in the first place. 
Not having read any of the Sons of Destiny novels yet, I felt that The Shifter read well as a standalone novel, and that it didn’t suffer from a lack of familiarity with the previous story, Shifting Plains. There’s a good amount of worldbuilding early on in the story, and combined with what seem to be mostly new characters, I was able to follow along pretty well.
There were several things, however, that kept me from being fully drawn into the story. There are some very sexy scenes in The Shifter, but there’s a sense of detachment to them that caused me to feel that something was missing from them. The frequent use of the characters’ very exotic full names is a bit of a stumbling block at first, although this strain eased considerably once they were referred to by their first names only. Solyn’s naïveté also ran contrary to the “been there, seen it already” knowledge of sex she claims to have as the daughter of a healer. There were other moments, which are harder to define, that simply made the story feel “off” to me as well.  
Kenyen, in particular, is a fantastic character, however, and I very much enjoyed watching him battle his own uncertainty as he tries to save Solyn and her people from the Mongrels. He is clever and kind, and brought some substantial heat to his sensual interactions with Solyn. He is completely in charge of every situation he’s in, even when he doesn’t think he is. His interactions with all the family members, as well as those with their enemies made me like him a great deal.
Despite some issues, The Shifter had some good moments, too. The villains in the story are truly evil men, and I admit that I found one of their victims getting her revenge more than a little satisfying. Solyn has some enjoyably saucy exchanges with her family and others, and her friendship with Traver was heartfelt. Kenyen is a character I’d like to read more of, as well, and would welcome the chance to read more of their tale should they appear in future novels. There’s a lot of potential within the Shifterai, and I’m curious to see what else Johnson might do with their stories. 
Bs Rating:
Liked it, but I had some issues – recommend (B)

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