Stirring the Storm (Shapeshifter) by Ali Sparkes

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Stirring the Storm (Shapeshifter) by Ali Sparkes

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The fifth volume of the adventure series still has twists and turns and unacceptably good levels of narrative on its way to explaining everything. A minor era ends with this recommended conclusion.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0192754691

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Never were four hundred pages more eagerly accepted as a freebie read for Christmas in the Lloyd household. Sure, there might be those questioning the fact that an adult is so impatient to have the fifth book in a series about a boy who turns into a fox and a falcon at will in his possession, but they should just try it for themselves.

There has been a most evident free spirit about these books, with a stirring adventure for the young teen Dax with those shape-shifting abilities, and his other gifted children friends - the mediums, illusionists, healers and so on. There has also been a consistent level of characterisation that really allows you to empathise with our hero, and one that always manages to match action with morals, drawing us into a complete world peopled by fully rounded individuals.

So, there was I, opening this book, knowing just what to expect from the final episode to the saga - I had a firm grasp on who would have to be outed as a goodie or a baddie after all, where the threat was going to come from, and which questions I needed answered. And within a page or 5 I was completely disarmed yet again - Sparkes knew what we needed too, but still had most novel adventures for Dax to undergo.

Therefore he starts the book as a fox, trotting merrily through a snowy winterscape. Until someone camouflaged in white apparel is sticking a knife-blade into the back of his neck. And for the first few hundred pages, get this - that is the best thing that actually happens to Dax (apart from one of his school-mates giving him a flirty look now and again).

That's not to say the series has suddenly jumped the shark and gone all dark and drear on us - it hasn't, although perhaps some of it is a little adult for the ten year old who has avidly picked up all five books in a mad rush. I said the fourth volume spent too much time giving us the back-story, and the boys and girls of Limitless Ability were too interested in spiteful barracking and pettiness. Here there's just no room, as so much has to be covered in the four hundred pages. It really is a roustabout read, with never a dull moment.

I have to say the eagerly awaited explanation wasn't to my taste particularly, but I don't think something like that would let me mark the book down. This is a fantasy series, of course, so why should I think it too off-kilter and unexpected? For those who have followed the story all along any conclusion would be highly anticipated.

I also had a good laugh with the book, too - there were a couple of good giggles, apart from the comic scene where these special and excluded children have to have a crash course in the modern pop charts (Freezing Primates indeed!). Elsewhere the whole set-up of the mysterious legacy from Dax's mum from beyond the grave (or beyond something, anyway) really stirred the mystery willies in me. Top notch plotting.

I know I started the series, by the fickle fate of the reviewing gods, with the third book, but I can think back to the first volume, where I was first dropped into the mindset of a shape-shifting young boy (and how well that was written). I can't believe how much progression has happened in the interim - the boy becoming a young man, with all the fatal adventures that have gone on around him. He's right at the forefront of everything here, too - although if I have a nit-pick it is that the killer blows, as such, aren't always dealt by his own hands here. He deserved a more powerful role in the conclusion, with fewer qualms perhaps.

But beyond any minor questions this is what fans of the books have been waiting for - a bunch of final threats, twists and perfectly written mystery. I'm not saying this because I have had all the series for gratis, and an e-conversation or three with the author - I stake my limited reputation on the claim that these books are excellent adventure stories for the 10-14 age group, and deserve a huge audience. With them Ali Sparkes has built a sterling reputation of her own, and deserves every success. It's a bit of a let-down to think this is the door closing on a highly recommended set of perfectly produced books.

I would like to thank OUP for sending me the copy to review.

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