Shifted: Episodes 1-4

Shifted 1-4The first “episode” of Shifted was written by Madeline Freeman and published in early 2014. It was developed as part of a writing challenge to compose a book within eight hours. This novella was swiftly followed by three short sequels, all of which are collected in the Shifted omnibus. Currently, six episodes have been made available on Amazon.co.uk and the series is expected to run for a further six more. For the purpose this review, I will only be looking at the first four instalments of this series only.

Shifted follows the story of Leigh Evans, a teenage girl who is forced to confront the fact that the supernatural exists when she is attacked by a strange creature while walking in the forest. She soon comes to encounter Peter and Mollie Monroe, twenty-something year old twins who travel across America, fighting demons and banishing ghosts wherever they find them.

Following a traumatic experience that almost costs her life, Leigh finds that she is unable to return to her normal life and chooses to train to become a hunter herself. Under the watchful eye of Peter, as well as his Aunt Flo and Cousin Jason, she begins to learn everything that she needs to survive, from self-defence to how to fool witnesses into thinking that she’s a member of the FBI to gain their trust.

Yet, as Leigh becomes more involved in the hunters’ world, she soon finds herself in grave danger. A shape-shifter is out for revenge and seems to be specifically targeting hunters. How can Leigh and her new friends fight back against something when it can even take on the form of people that they love?

It feels really weird to refer to a story as an “episode” but when you read Shifted it rapidly becomes clear how accurate this is. Each of the stories in this collection are only about 10,000 to 15,000 words in length and if you’ve ever watched a paranormal TV show (X-Files, Buffy, Supernatural etc.) the structure of them will seem very familiar. Each of the episodes begins with an opening sting (usually a death) in order to draw in the reader before following the hunters as they pursue a couple of red herrings before the final climax.

In particular, it was very hard to overlook just how similar this series was to Supernatural. The story was about siblings who were born into a family of monster hunters and travelled the country by car, helping people out by solving their paranormal problems. The Monroe twins even utilised a lot of the Winchester’s methods, including assuming false identities to get more information and deploying weapons like rock salt guns. I only watched the first few seasons of Supernatural but from what I remember, episode 2 seemed especially familiar. Although this story introduced the character of Flo, it was more of a “monster of the week” episode and so stood alone better than the others. In this one, the creature that needed dispatching was a ghost and so there was a lot of exhuming bodies to salt and burn the remains – something that I remember seeing Sam and Dean doing an awful lot.

If you can get past the similarity with Supernatural, the stories are actually rather fast paced. The stories aren’t overly detailed but do provide enough background information for the reader to understand how the hunters operate and what kind of creatures they face. While I would have liked to have seen more of a variety of enemies (three of the four stories show the hunters facing off against shape-shifters), the stories did at least make clear that these weren’t the only foes that they were familiar with so maybe this will be something that Freeman will explore in future episodes.

However, the episodes were distinctly lacking in substance. While they were never boring and certainly kept my attention throughout, it felt as though they had been trimmed to a bare minimum in order to maintain the TV show feel. I think that I would have preferred that the author had combined these stories together into one full length novel as this would have allowed for her to spend more time in fleshing out the characters and setting. It would have also removed the need to spend a little bit of time at the start of each episode explaining what had happened previously. The reader it told about a certain character’s death many times over the course of these episodes, as well as what weaknesses shape-shifters had and how Peter and Jason’s relationship was very strained. It just struck me as very wasteful to spend so much time repeating exposition in a collection that had a relatively low page count.

The episodes were also a little too brief to allow the reader to get a good feel for the characters. Of all the primary cast, Peter is probably the one who gets the most development as he does at least get to undergo a complete character arc. The events of the first book completely change him and he struggles to come to terms with what has happened, only truly finding any semblance of closure at the end of episode 4. The other hunters – Jason, Flo, Mollie – don’t really get anywhere near the same amount of page time. Flo was pretty awesome (which was probably why I enjoyed episode 2 the most), but was largely just a voice at the end of a phone. I never really got any kind of a sense of what Mollie was like as a person and Peter hinted that Jason had a dark side but it was never really explored.

Also, despite the fact that she was the everyman of the book, the story did not really focus much on Leigh. She is recruited as a hunter remarkably easily in episode 1, simply choosing the dangerous life without much deliberation, and most of her training occurs off page. This was a bit of a pity as it meant that the reader never really got to see her struggling with anything. She takes all of the horrible things that occur in her stride and never seems to regret her decision (or stop to think about the family that she has left behind), which made her seem to be a bit 2-dimensional for a protagonist.

All in all, Shifted is a decent light read and fans of Supernatural should get a kick out of it, but it is noticeably missing something. The story overall is rather shallow, lacking in character development and any kind of depth of plot. However, it does make a nice introduction to Freeman’s world and I was left curious to see where the story will go from here.

Shifted: Episodes 1-4 can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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