I haven’t written a review in a while, so please forgive me! School has been hectic, but I will be trying to post more regularly. –
I would like to preface this review with a little disclaimer. In our first post, Kim and I promised to review good books, great books and even bad books. This is just my little speech about bad books. I may poke fun, I may mock, I may snort disdainfully, I may say horribly derogatory things about the mental acuity of the writer, but I want to make it clear that bad books, no matter how terrible, did get published. So underneath all of the scoffing and insults, there is a kernel of respect that I have for every published author. I’m a writer too, and I haven’t yet been published. So although I may not-so-humbly think that my work is more well written than some ‘bad books’ I review here, I still give kudos to the author. Not only did he or she complete a book, which in itself is a tremendous feat for which anyone who accomplishes it deserves praise, but he or she is actually earning at least a small portion of his or her living doing something he or she loves: writing. Also, any written work should quite honestly be respected in some aspects. Someone, somewhere will connect with it. If a published or unpublished book, story, novella, essay or poem gets someone, somewhere in the world thinking, or inspires them in some way, it deserves at least a smidgen of praise and respect. But it may or may not also deserve to be mercilessly mocked!
I would also just like to quickly warn you that I plan on spoiling almost the entire story of this book because it is just too good, and there’s very little chance that you will actually read this review and go—“Sounds like a feat of literary intrigue! I must purchase and read immediately!” Though you probably should; it’s great for a laugh, or a hundred. To give you a frame of reference, this book makes Twilight look like Jane Eyre.
As someone who doesn’t normally frequent the bodice-ripper/erotica/romance genre, I didn’t really expect to care much for this book. However, it was free. Plus, I saw the phrase “vicar’s daughter” on the back jacket summary, and as an avid fan of the TV show Friends*, I couldn’t resist. The Shifting Heart is a really odd mixture of Young Adult paranormal activity and hard-core erotic scenes, so the intended audience of this book was, right off the bat, quite unclear. The heroine of the novel is Megan, The Vicar’s daughter, who falls for Seth a wild, sexy, and dangerous man who, aside from his other qualities, has the ability to transform himself into an otter. You heard me. Not a wolf, horse, eagle, or other sort of alluring/mysterious/powerful animal, but an otter. An otter. Intrigue!
At the start of the novel, Megan and her servant, Ivy, are wandering around in a blizzard trying to deliver food and blankets to a poor family on the edge of town, who can’t help squeezing out loin product despite the fact they live in a shack and have no food. Anyway, Megan falls in a ditch. Ivy tries to pull her out, but can’t. Enter Seth and his brother Ben, who help Megan out of the ditch and offer the girls shelter for the night.
After returning home, Megan sits with her ailing mother and assures her of her own and Ivy’s safety, and that the charitable deed was eventually completed. Through a few awkward comments it becomes clear to the reader that Megan still thinks babies come from the stork.
Later, when Megan is walking to the church with her father (the vicar), by way of hackneyed foreshadowing, they see two otters gamboling in the street. Then, Megan is praying in the church when some random creeper just starts like stroking her hair, which for some reason she’s totally fine with. It’s Seth. He’s all husky voiced and lusty, and convinces Megan to meet him at the ruins of the old Abbey just outside of town. Megan wonders what Seth could possibly want with her, and the reader rolls his or her eyes.
Cut to Ivy, who is meandering innocently through town and is verbally assaulted by Ben, who begins from this point forward to refer to Ivy as “Wench,” or alternately, “my wench.” Reader wonders if Ben may or may not be a pirate, while Ivy coquettishly laughs and the two banter playfully. It becomes clear that Ivy is the more sensible of the two girls. She is unmarried and is somewhat of a feminist at the start of the story. She does not wish to marry or “know a man’s touch,” because she wants to make her own life and not spend all her time dropping brats, like her mother and other poor people in the village.
The next day, Megan waits for Seth at the ruins and continues to wonder what the two will do. Seth emerges nude from the river after transforming out of his “otter skin.” Megan is a little wierded out at first but is kind of fine with it because Seth is apparently an Otter-man Adonis. Reader learns important life lesson about how to judge potential mates. The two throw down and consummate their new affair pretty much instantly. This scene is one of my favorite passages in the story, namely because I nearly busted a gut laughing when the phrase “curious manifestation” was used to described Seth’s down-town bonanza. Seth shows Megan a pretty good time before turning back into an Otter and returning to the river. From a craft standpoint, the use of “curious manifestation” is understandable, considering there are so many realistically Victorian-sounding slang words for “penis.” For instance, ‘down-town bonanza’ would not have been an acceptable choice.
Megan and Seth continue the affair, with Megan becoming more confident sexually as the story wares on. Ben continues to pester Ivy. Weather constraints prevent the lovers from seeing each other for a while (read: conflict!). Seth, driven mad by his animalistic otter-side and lust for Megan, bangs on the Vicar’s door in the middle of the night. Ivy answers and lets him in. He goes up to meet Megan, who spontaneously rends her gauzy nightgown in twain and the two copulate furiously. It is implied that at least part of this scene takes place with Seth in his Otter form. Reader wonders if author has a furry fetish. They fall asleep post-coitus.
Cut to Ivy, drinking tea downstairs, when suddenly the Vicar is chasing a nude Seth through the house. The two crossed paths on the way to the latrine, perhaps. Anyway, Ivy claims that Seth is her lover to spare Megan’s reputation. Megan, wearing a shredded nightgown and exposing herself to everyone, is somehow not suspected of impropriety and Ivy is promptly fired.
Ivy moves back home and works in the field while being continuously harassed by Ben. The two lovers, Megan and Seth, avoid each other for a while so as not to be suspicious. One day, Megan is at the church teaching sewing. She sees boys in the yard kicking an animal. She runs out to stop it. She realizes it’s an otter and starts to freak out. She stops a passing farmer and asks for his help moving the injured creature out of the street. The farmer then kills the otter with a rusty shovel. The reader actually has an emotional reaction, because honestly otters are fucking adorable and no one wants to see one’s skull crushed by a shovel.
Megan goes catatonic, refusing to eat, assuming, understandably, that the otter was Seth. Ben proposes to Ivy. She accepts essentially out of necessity, and there’s an actually sad passage that describes her resignation to the impoverished married life of her mother.
Megan, the Vicar and Vicar’s wife move to the big city, where Megan can be checked into a mental health facility. A young new Vicar, whose name is legitimately Reverend Gotobed, moves in. Warning: here’s where the story starts to go crazy.
An unsuspecting Ivy is hanging laundry at her and Ben’s cottage when she is pounced on and taken roughly from behind. At first she thought it was Ben, her husband, but somewhere between getting her skirt ripped off and actually turning around to look at her assailant, she realizes its Seth. Ivy doesn’t really struggle and pretty much just enjoys the ride. Reader learns it’s okay to cheat on your husband if it’s someone really hot, especially if that person is your husband’s brother, because they kind of look alike anyway.
Seth then asks who Ivy is, apparently not remembering her from the ditch-blizzard-cottage incident. He saunters off to find some clothing and asks about Megan. He becomes determined to be with Megan again. We haven’t really heard him talk much until this point, but it becomes clear to the reader that Seth’s human side might actually be cave man. Ivy explains her mental breakdown.
Megan breaks out of the looney bin and wanders through the woods with apparent amnesia, trying to find her way back to her otter love. Enter Reverend Gotobed, who is exploring the Abbey ruins. He sees Megan all barefoot and crazed with twigs in her hair, rambling about nothing and apparently thinks: damn, what a hot piece. He is filled with a sinful lustiness and has a brief crisis of faith before deciding to kiss Megan, who laughs and yells something obscene like, “I’m a bitch otter in heat!” She dances off crazily through the woods and Reverend Gotobed returns home to molest his young servant girl, Sara, and about 25 pages from the end of the novel, a side plot begins.
Meanwhile, back at the compound, Ivy and Seth continue their affair. Megan wanders through town looking for Seth. Ben doesn’t catch his wife and her mister-ess until they decide brazenly to mate in Ivy and Ben’s marriage bed.
It is then revealed to the reader that Ben is likewise blessed with Otter powers. Both men turn into Otters and have a brawl over Ivy, who is trying to stop the fight. Megan returns and watches, horrified. Eventually one Otter falls and the other runs off into the woods. The women take the wounded one back into the house, unsure which Otter brother it is because, well, they’re otters. The otter in the house dies. They bury it.
Ben returns in human form, and Megan has breakdown number two as she realizes that this time, the dearly departed otter is definitely Seth.
Here’s where the brilliant story telling far outstrips my capacity to comprehend the plot, so I’ll do my best to interpret what I read in the last few murky pages. Megan runs through the woods grieving, and an apparition of Seth comes to her—or so we think. Then, Megan falls in a ditch and dies. Seriously. She is resurrected as a ghost and she and Seth romp eternally through the woods. He teaches her how to turn into an Otter, and they have lots of ghostly, otterly sex. Ben and Ivy try to repair their marriage, and decide to have children. Ivy thinks some otter kids would be nice, so she gives Ben her blessing to have sex with a lady otter, who is female but I’m fairly certain is just a regular otter, and have otter kids. And regular kids via her own womb, later, I think.
Meanwhile, Reverend Gotobed wants to do his servant, who traps him into a marriage by refusing to give up her body before he puts a ring on it. Reader learns that it is acceptable for man to propose as a reaction to blue balls.
They wed, and their wedding night festivities are interrupted by the good Reverend hearing people in the empty guest room. He goes in, member a-swinging (I mention this because it is not conjecture. It is described in detail), to see whose in his house. He hallucinates seeing Megan and Seth engaging in some raunchy relations. Reverend Gotobed’s new bride comes up behind him and is confused by his apparent hallucinations but thinks he is totally sound to consummate the marriage. They mate.
It is then revealed, absurdly close to the end of the book (read: afterthought), that there is an urban legend in the village about ‘ghost girls’ wandering the woods. It is really vague and unclear, but I think it’s implied that the otter brothers are somehow always involved and are potentially immortal, or at least there has been generation after generation of otter men.
Then, a year passes. Reverend Gotobed’s wife dies. And his daughter. Ivy sits by the river as Ben teaches their litter of otter children how to fish. One of them, upon climbing out of the river yells to “Uncle Seth.”
Then it ends.
That is seriously the end of the story. I flipped the page over a few times to be sure, but yeah. That was it. I have never in my life read such a confusing, hobbled together, somewhat perverted excuse for a porn novel. If you are a writer, and you doubt yourself, I seriously recommend you pick up this book. It will be a serious ego booster.
*If you’re confused, watch the episode “The One With Rachel’s Book,” from season seven.