The Shapeshifters // by Stefan Spjut


//published 2012//

FictionFan reviewed this book a while back, and I found myself intrigued.  A story set in modern day, but wherein strange creatures from folklore actually exist?  I kind of love books with this concept – something about the mixing of fairy tale components with things like the internet and cell phones I find to be delightful.  The Shapeshifters was 100% bizarre, and yet completely readable and engaging – and, weirdly, almost believable…

The book begins in the late 70’s, in Sweden (NB this book was originally published in Swedish).  A boy and his mother travel to a cabin in the woods.  While there, the boy disappears.  In the present day, Susso drives to meet with an old woman – Susso believes that trolls and other folklore creatures are real, and this woman claims to have seen one.  Somewhere else, Seved worries because the old ones are getting restless, and seem more prone to violence than they were before…

I can’t really describe this book.  It was completely strange.  It didn’t really have chapters as such – just a few pages from one perspective, and then a few from another.  Spjut doesn’t do a lot of explaining, and part of the terror is the not knowing.  Even from the very beginning – why are the boy and his mother going to this cabin?  Are they fleeing or just vacationing?  There are definitely more questions than answers in this book – but for the most part that’s okay.  Somehow, those gaps in knowledge fit with the whole feeling of the book – which also fits in with the long winter of northern Sweden that is the background of the story – dark, sparse, cold, dangerous.

It’s a long story with many layers.  Once the characters began to settle out in my mind, I found myself racing through the pages, trying to figure out where everything was heading.  Spjut isn’t afraid to kill a few people off now and again to keep you scared, too.  There were a lot of threads that seemed quite separate at the beginning, but gradually begin to weave together closer and closer, and through them all one that is common – children that go missing.

I’m still working at the orchard, although we are winding down for the season.  On Wednesday afternoons, I watch the sales room.  If there aren’t any customers or special chores, I’m allowed to read, and that’s exactly what I did last week – I devoured almost this entire book in one go.  And, creepily enough, found it just as believable as any other thriller I’ve ever read – more so than some of the crazy spy ones.  Spjut has a manner of presenting these trolls and shapeshifters as a reality, hidden and protected, but still very real.  Somehow, the whole story comes across as completely plausible.

(Of course, that night I came down with some kind of virus and had one of those nights where you have a low-grade fever and have many strange dreams.  And let me tell you a thing, if you read Spjut’s book before you start having those weird dreams, your dreams will be very weird indeed!)

My only real disappointment was that I felt that the ending was a bit too ambiguous for me.  Some main points were wrapped up, but there were still a lot of questions, not just about the Old Ones, but about the characters whose lives I’d been following.  Really, the ending felt like it could very well be leading into a second book, which I would totally read – it seemed like there was a whole new twist to the program.

Still, a solid 4/5, and I do recommend this as a bizarre yet fascinating thriller that kept me glued to the pages with that whiff of delicious terror haunting me.