Dowsing the Dead: Shapeshifter Book 4 by Ali Sparkes

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Dowsing the Dead: Shapeshifter Book 4 by Ali Sparkes

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The remaining Children of Limitless Ability cannot rest without having another great adventure - this time with the fallout of the previous three books being redressed. This means too much old news for us to begin with but the book is just as surprising and well-written as we wished.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 362 Date: August 2007
Publisher: OUP Oxford
ISBN: 978-0192754684

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Now, call me shallow, but I do like it when females give me books. Which makes it only more annoying that the Bookbag ladies are both happily married. But dammit, they have to be good books.

So just because I have now got through all four of the Shapeshifter books without paying a penny, and I think you should be aware of that when reading my comments, it doesn't mean I am going to jump up and down in glee at a pile of tat.

Similarly, when I find great characterisation, a brilliantly sustained mystery / fantasy thriller plot, and more adventure than I could wish for, I am going to make a fuss about it and fend off cries of payola as they come.

The third book ended on a cliffhanger, with me thinking I knew what the remaining two books in the series needed - all the battles, quandaries of who is good and evil, and the mystery of the missing mothers resolved. There was me thinking there was enough to be going on with, and we could all rush through the action and sprint to the end of the five volume cycle, but no, this outing has to start with the hero seeming to have a stroke.

Luckily, it only turns out that that is due to restrictions into the use of his powers, and he has not been able to turn into a fox or a falcon enough. I guess at this point a summary of what has gone before would be appropriate.

Unfortunately, Ali Sparkes thinks so too, and for too long the book is reprising what has happened earlier in the storyline - the mysterious two thirds of a triplet-set of children of limitless ability (Colas), the psychic assault on the campus the Government had secreted them all away at, the chase and bewildering attack that constituted book three. Never before in the series have we had so much back story given to us, and while Sparkes does it well - in that it is not forced on us in one lump - it takes too much.

Thankfully the book soon swerves gently into a rollicking adventure for the shape-shifting Dax, his healing friend Mia, Gideon - the crucial friendly part of the triplets left among the Colas, and the rest.

I have to say I have some other small problems with the beginning of the book. Toilet humour has arrived, and with the help of Spook (whose limitless ability is cheesy TV magician illusions but done for real) too much bickering and silly banter is gone through. Perhaps it's just the characters getting old (thirteen at least now). It isn't long, however, before the saga is being told as I prefer, though - the tension, character and emotion coming through proper relationships - in this case partly with Dax vying with his disliked step-mum.

It's this real-life grounding - teenage against adult, and parents especially - that helps the book fix its fantasy element in the real world, and here again the fantasy is especially strong. I wasn't too keen on the crystal healing element, but with a séance and more it really should be said this is the darkest book by far in the series. As I say, before publication I had some idea where this book was going to take me - which proved completely wrong. The dedication and book three coda gave some clue to the geographical setting, but again I was left stumped in trying to second guess this author, who really does know how to lyrically describe the Lake District one minute, and confront her heroes and heroines with a bizarre psychic trauma the next.

It is this ability to surprise that is just one delight of this very readable series, and I really have to recommend these books for everyone, I think beyond the 9-13 age bracket as well. I got on a moving bus by reading the third book first, but since then have read them all, and have just had to admire the writing, the action, and especially how the characters result in sensible conflict between the protagonists, and above all a realistic story. (Yes, a realistic story featuring a mentally-powered tsunami, and a boy who can turn from fox to falcon to fellow as quick as a blink and give people the heebie-jeebies as a result.)

So now the fifth and final book will have to cover all my questions I want answered, and the international element this book ends us with. If it truly is as good as it already is in my head then Bookbag had better start programming a six stars option for me.

My personal thanks to the author for sending me a copy - loved the sketch too!

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