I recommend it to readers looking for fast-paced urban fantasy that isn’t reliant on tweaks to common supernatural creatures for it’s sense of freshness
Unelmoija: The Spiritshifter by Elle BocaBoca continues her exploration of a world neither quite our own nor populated by well-known supernaturals. Mixing easily recognisable concerns with political intrigue and mystical powers, she provides a fantasy thriller that offers significant threats without challenging plausibility.
This novel is the third in Boca’s Weeia series. There are mild spoilers ahead.
Aligned with, if not a leading force in, the Youth for Change movement, Amy accompanies Duncan, Kay, and a couple of other friends to a gathering of the Weeia. However, when Loi—the husband of an acquaintance—is found dead, her foray deeper into Weeia society takes on a more dangerous air. Loi’s power was allegedly to unlock the powers of other Weeia, offering a possible solution to the issue of most young Weeia not developing a power; when a previously powerless Weeia manifests his power shortly after meeting Amy, she realises she might have the same gift. The Weeia Elders claim Loi’s death was natural causes, but Amy isn’t so sure. If someone did kill him because he could unlock powers, then should she hide that she might be able to do the same? Or offer Youth for Change the possible solution to their biggest issue?
The novel opens with Amy and a couple of other characters standing over Loi’s dead body, followed—almost immediately—by an Elder arriving to take charge. Although the narration and conversations that occur after Amy and her friends are ushered out do fill in gaps, the lack of any context for the opening image both leaves readers without a reason to care that Loi specifically is dead and—while it does evoke confusion—diffuses the reader’s attention with unnecessary questions such as ‘where is Amy?’ and ‘why is she involved?’ As such, readers might feel somewhat distant from what, to the characters, is potentially a brutal murder.
Once past the initial scene, Boca provides a better balance of context and mystery, adding a desire to uncover the truth to the any continuing interest in Amy’s life that the reader has carried over from previous books. With both Amy’s investigation and the threats against young Weeia growing more complex as the book proceeds, readers who forgive any initial lack of immersion are likely to find their decision rewarded.
However, further moments in which the order of things is odd do occur throughout the novel. On several occasions, Amy narrates that a man speaks then mentions the man’s name a few lines later, or mentions a person doing something then describes their appearance later in the scene; while a single incidence might create a feeling that Amy had been so caught off guard her rational mind took a moment to catch up, repeated delays in identifying people she’s familiar with (including Duncan) weakens the tension by suggesting any missing information might not be significant and might be provided in a few lines.
As with the previous volumes, this novel introduces new aspects of Boca’s world and metaphysics. Viewed through the lens of Amy’s unfamiliarity with Weeia society and the relative rarity of the new powers and events, this feels like more like the mention of things that had always been there than the addition of new things to support a further book.
Amy herself continues to be a sympathetic protagonist. She is proactive rather than reactive when faced with a possible threat to either herself or Weeia as a whole, and her improved understanding of her abilities is counterbalanced by a very plausible set of uncertainties in both what that means and whether she can actually use it effectively.
The supporting characters, reoccurring and new, display a similar balance of ability or understanding, and complexity of character. This depth of personality provides a pleasing human note to the wider plot.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers looking for fast-paced urban fantasy that isn’t reliant on tweaks to common supernatural creatures for it’s sense of freshness.
Dave Higgins, speculative fiction author
(see it and other reviews on his website at https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/unelmoija-the-spiritshifter-by-elle-boca/)