by Cassie Alexander, fantasy (2013)
St Martin's Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-312-55341-8

Cassie Alexander's Shapeshifted is the third book in her Edie Spence series. It's about our heroine, Edie, who is a registered nurse that works at a place that tends to sick and injured creatures of the woo-woo kind. This story has a plot that can stand alone quite decently, as it doesn't bring in any leftover baggage from previous books, but it does bring over established relationships formed in those previous books. I'd suggest people new to the series to just start with the first book, Nightshifted.

The very premise of this book is a spoiler for those previous books, so if you wish to start on those books on a clean slate, be a dear and stop reading right here. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Okay, six months after events in Moonshifted, Edie is still without a job. She is also "shunned" by the paranormal folks in town, so she's now free to lead a normal life. Except, without the influence of the Shadows, her brother happily goes back to doing drugs, and Edie finds herself feeling bored and even lonely. Working at the sleep disorder clinic may have something to do with it. But Edie's day is really ruined when her mother reveals that she is dying of cancer.

Out of desperation, Edie decides that the best way - only way - to save her mother is to have a vampire give that woman some blood. Due to the shunning, she has no idea how to get in touch with Anna or any halfway decent vampire that doesn't hate her guts. Edie's efforts to get herself hired back by Y4 reveal some cryptic information - the Shadows are searching for "Santa Muerte" - Saint Death - so she has this idea that if she finds this Santa Muerte first, the Shadows may give her a job back and maybe even a boon that she can use to save her mother.

A coincidental stumbling upon an online image of Santa Muerte leads Edie to her new job: still a nurse, only, she's now working at a clinic with bulletproof walls, located in Divisadero, where there is a gang fight brewing towards an undoubtedly violent climax. Naturally, Edie is stuck in the middle as she attempts to discover the whereabouts of this Santa Muerte and it just has to happen that the principal players in this drama may not be entirely human...

The story starts out pretty slow and the plot relies on way too many coincidences for its own good, but the story just keeps getting better as I turn the page. By the last page, I'm at the edge of my seat so much that I'd probably fall off if this book has another dozen more pages. A big reason for this is the way the author skillfully builds up the story. It starts out slow, like a silly wild goose chase that probably won't go anywhere, only to have more and more twists and turns until, bam, here's the dramatic climax that is just... fine. When it comes to pacing, thrills, and good old fashioned "Kill! Kill! Kill!" fun, this one is, I feel, the best book so far in the series.

It's also great that the heroine doesn't screw up this time only to be saved by other people - a typical pattern of behavior in previous books. She's actually running out with fists raised high this time, without being too impetuous. Okay, some of the things she does here can be considered dumb, but she doesn't act dumb and I only realize what she has done only when I think back about the book. I'm swept along as I read this book, and I'm having too much fun to analyze things when these things are going so well.

Of course, my enjoyment of this book could also be because Edie ends up going for the guy that I feel is the best fit for her. I won't say which guy is this, as there are two guys here that continue the song and dance from previous books. It's really good that the author allows the other guy to bow out with a graceful show of heroism that actually brings a tear to my my eye. Just a small one, of course. I finally warm up to him, and he's not going to be around to play any more, sigh.

Shapeshifted provides ample closure to allow the reader to stop reading the series by the end of this book, although I notice another book in this series being advertised as coming soon by the end of this book. This is actually good news to me, as I feel that the going is just getting good, and I can't wait to see what kind of trouble Edie gets into next.

Rating: 88

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