Guest Review by Melanie
Title: Shift (Infected #5)
Author: Andrea Speed
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: Novel
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance

Rating: 5 stars

Shift is the fifth book in Andrea Speed’s Infected series.  This is a tightly linked series and the books should be read in order.  This review may have some spoilers for previous books in the series.

It’s a typical day for Roan McKitchan in that there is nothing typical about it. His new client is a wall of a man who just happens to be a hockey player with a 10-year-old case involving a transgendered person’s suicide that just might be murder. Roan’s relationship with his artist/bartender boyfriend, Dylan, is especially rocky these days and all his friends seems to think that Roan is so depressed that he is seeking to die. And then there is that little matter of another possible aneurysm next time he shifts.

When his partial transformation is caught on tape and uploaded to YouTube, the crazies start coming out of the woodwork with vicious attacks on Roan and those close to him. Everything about Roan’s world is in flux, his stress increasing, and yes, his depression is getting worse even as his virus mutates yet again. What is he to do when the shifters start to look to him for leadership just as he is struggling to handle all the major shifts in his life? Leader or vigilante? Life or death? Roan needs to find those answers himself and soon.

Shift picks up the story of Roan where Freefall left off as everyone around Roan is still reeling from the aftermath of Roan’s brain aneurysm. The fact that Roan survived the unsurvivable for no discernable medical reason has left Roan, Dylan, and his circle of friends on edge with Dylan especially fragile. Still sustaining himself on drugs and partial shifts, Roan tries to continue business as usual. But his reckless behavior and depression has seen his relationship with Dylan grow increasingly problematic as the daily stress that is Roan’s life and his precarious mental state leave Dylan’s composure in shreds. What others see as his suicidal tendencies, Roan believes to be his normal state, at least for him. To Roan, his outlook and actions are in tune with someone uncertain of his humanity and life span. And as we get pulled deeper into latest Infected novel, the story of Roan McKitchan and the cat virus continues to shift and evolve, turning into a series as unpredictable and infectious as the virus itself.

Andrea Speed’s spectacular talent ensures that we are able to absolutely understand and empathize with Roan, one of the most unique characters I have come across. A virus child who lives and thrives against all odds and laws of nature, Roan’s “fuck you’ attitude is at odds with his bruised romantic soul. Roan constantly lives with the truth that he is mutating along with the virus and we feel his terror and pain as the virus mutates and shifts his view of himself from human to monster. One of the threads that keeps him tethered to his human status are his boyfriend/husband as Dylan continues to anchor him in the present while Paris’ ghost visits his dreams to comfort and annoy. Roan’s such a complicated character as one would expect of a man bedeviled by his abusive past and mutating physique. One can be reading along, laughing out loud as Roan muses on the state of music, societal goings on, whatever grabs his attention, and then suddenly the story plunges us into tears with remembrances of Paris, the victims that cross Roan’s path, and Roan’s very real fears for his future. From his music to his t-shirts and books, Roan is a character so remarkable in dimension that finding words to do him justice is confounding at times. I may not be able to explain satisfactorily explain the beauty that is Roan but it is clear from book one that he is one that will always stay with you.

Dylan is another unexpected character who continues to grow with the series. As the boyfriend with the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Roan’s soulmate, Paris, it would be as easy to dismiss him as other characters do in the book. A Zen Buddhist, his calm outlook is constantly under attack by his role in Roan’s life, and by Roan himself as his infected status throws them all into daily turbulence. Dylan has always seemed to accept his secondary place with Roan, but that starts to change here as the doubts creep in. I found this so authentic and wonder where Speed will take this romance. It is Roan’s nature to be a monogamist, but there is more to be considered here. The lion’s needs must be brought into the equation as well and here the relationship with Dylan seems less certain. The lion clearly loved Paris, a tiger shifter who was Roan’s equal, if not more in so many ways. And as I watched Roan and Dylan struggle to maintain and strengthen their relationship, the thought remained in the back of my mind “what does the lion think of Dylan as a mate?” Can a lion accept a lesser human? And for me their future together got blurry. And that just points up the strength of Speed’s writing. She has the reader constantly thinking about the events and relationships in the story, nothing is concrete, everything is constantly shifting, including our perceptions.

Shift is divided into two stories as is typical of this series. The first is Shift. It is in this section that a wonderful group of characters is introduced, the Seattle Falcons, a minor league hockey team. While Roan has always had a small group of friends, with the addition of Grey, Scott, Tank and others, a wonderfully crazy element of support for Roan has been met. All strong, with a love for a fight, these modern warriors have depth beneath the hockey player stereotypes that made them instant favorites of mine, especially Grey. I hope to see them often along with Holden, Dr. Rosenberg, Dee, Fiona, and the rest of the circle that revolves around Roan. The case Grey brings Roan is heartbreaking in content and conclusion. Bloodbath is the second story in the novel and aptly named as the blood flows through all the events in this tale of vengeance and vigilante justice. There is a common link of attacks between the two stories that remains unsettled at the end as does so much else here.

The virus remains a phenomenal character all its own, as it’s continuing mutations bring new challenges, questions, and pain to Roan, Dylan, and everyone else around him. Speed has sprinkled some truly tantalizing notions throughout the novel, a sentence here, a snippet there, that had the ability to bring me to an absolute standstill when I extrapolated them out in my mind. One involves a painting Dylan had in mind when thinking of Roan and wondering if it could happen. Where that thought took me made me breathless with anticipation for Roan and his future.

So this rollercoaster called Infected has come down from the stratosphere, depositing me earthbound once more, leaving me with more questions,more stymied, and with more anticipation than ever before. What a magnificent job Speed has done with Shift. I can’t wait to see where she takes Roan next. I will be sure to follow.

Cover: These Infected covers are fantastic. Art work by Anne Cain, design by Mara McKinnon. Dynamic in graphics and design, I just love them. They are available also as wallpaper on Andrea Speed’s website.

Note: Here is the Infected series in the order the books should be read:

  • Prey
  • Bloodlines
  • Life After Death
  • Freefall
  • Shift