by Constance O'Day-Flannery, paranormal (2004)
Tor Romance, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34889-6
Shifting Love is a Mary Sue on a Soapbox story. Constance O'Day-Flannery is an author who always lets her story be overrun by her soapbox and her better books are always those where the soapbox doesn't completely overwhelm the story. Shifting Love is not one of those better books.
Our heroine Magdalene O'Shea is named after Mary Magdalene. Ms O'Day-Flannery spent three years in Ireland after her contract with Avon went chest-up, oops, I mean, she went on a hiatus to recharge her creative energies and in her foreword, she claims that she is all about the "Sacred Feminine Principle" and letting the world know what the real Mary Magdalene is all about. She is pleased that Dan Brown beat her to the punch last year so Mr Brown, be rest assured that there is no hard feelings here. We are, after all, talking about the Sacred Feminine Principle, and any reader not aware of that will know soon enough when they meet Maggie.
For the first chapter, I like Maggie. She's born a shapeshifter - which allows her to shift forms into any other living creature - and she uses this skill to turn into a butterfly and sneak up to the teachers when they are preparing their exam papers. That's why she is an ace in school. She works for a shadowy organization of shapeshifters given the responsibility to help selected people (who are naturally beautiful, wealthy, and powerful, although don't you dare accuse the Foundation of being classist) overcome heartbreak and move on with life, so that by doing so, these people can "restore the balance". Don't ask. Maybe it's a "whenever someone dumps you, a puppy gets run over in America, so let's not dump people, eh?" thing. Apparently these shapeshifters aren't above sleeping with these heartbroken people to help them move on, since we are talking about an actual relationship after all, so this is one of those cool Escort Service In The Name Of Good concept. Since Ms O'Day-Flannery is on a soapbox, I wonder whether this story is a veiled propaganda calling for the legalization of prostitution. I always wanted to visit Amsterdam. Ahem.
Maggie is perfect. She cooks excellently, although she will of course be the first to demur when people call her a good cook. She dresses wonderfully. Her store is a zen-like retreat from the stress of the rat-race, where people come in to laugh at enlightening slogans in the shop like "If you still don't believe in miracles, consider your mind". She always says the correct things. She has no concept of hatred, nor does she harbor prejudices. Everyone loves her. Naturally, she's the perfect person to help Julian McDonald overcome his heartbreak over the loss of his wife and kid. Apparently it is important for the Foundation to see Julian move on with life, for some reason.
Still, I do like Maggie in the first chapter, like I've said, because among her many splendor facets of perfection, a healthy attitude towards men, sex, and life is there. I like a heroine with these traits. Unfortunately, Maggie's can't-do-wrong luster wears thin fast enough. Perfection, after all, is boring. I enjoy the moment when Julian and Maggie meet at an auction, but their scenes together subsequently are completely devoid of chemistry. Julian is perfect except for his broken heart. Maggie is perfect except for her doubts regarding the Foundation. Apart from an abrupt phoned-in conflict towards the end that inadvertently turns Julian into an uncharacteristic asshole, there is no conflict in this book.
To pad the story, the author goes on her soapbox. It is not uncommon to find scenes featuring secondary characters giving long stilted speeches such as my favorite on page 52: "I've always been an advocate for free trade, Senator, but gouging the American public crosses the line. We're the only country in the world that doesn't regulate drug pricing and we pay the highest in the world. Are you aware, Senator, that twenty-nine percent of seniors let prescriptions go unfulfilled because they can't afford medicine and food? And now the FDA, who gets over five millions from your friends, is trying to stop them from obtaining their medicine from Canada and Mexico?" I heartily approve of Ms O'Day-Flannery's sentiments but egads, I can't say I approve of such heavy-handed speeches, especially when the scene where the above snippet is taken from has no relevance whatsoever to the plot. There are many scenes in this book that take place only because the author wants to get on her soapbox about how she doesn't like the world is being and how she thinks the world can be a better place.
While Shifting Love eventually degenerates into being a near-unreadable, utterly dull, and outright didactic Speeches From My Soapbox territory, for the first 100 or so pages, I find myself captivated by this book. I am hoping that the wonderfully set-up introduction of the main characters and the promising aspects of Maggie's character will be developed into something better. I also find some laugh-out-loud funny moments, such as when the author sniffs at those people who think they are special because they are born to wealth or power, calling them "The Lucky Sperm Club". The left-wing college activist in me is drawn to this pleasant little Utopia in Ms O'Day-Flannery's world.
But I can only take so much of a Mary Sue heroine and a boring hero. There is only so much perfection I can take without my eyelids becoming heavy with boredom-induced lethargy. Add nearly-nonexistent conflict and often laughably obvious soapbox moments to the mix and I get a book that is more self-indulgent than entertaining. Marcus, Maggie's ex as well as mentor, is a more interesting character than the main characters but that's about it, really, when it comes to the things in this book that come off as even a little entertaining. There are some potential to this book and there are some good non-contrived and even humorous scenes and concepts here (the Lucky Sperm Club, heh), which is why I don't give this book a lower grade. I just wish that the author displays more of that side of her in her book. As it is, Shifting Love comes off like the writing of someone who is better off starting a left-wing version of Reader's Digest (is there any?).
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