Shift Happens by T. M. Baumgartner (book review).

Everyone has an animal that is theirs, their inner self. Everyone has a bit of magic in them and could shapeshift, in theory. Most people don’t shift and fear those that do. There’s a TV show, ‘Shift Enforcers’, that specialises in the things that can go wrong if you do shift because you don’t know what animal you’ll shift into: predator or herbivore.

Every day or mythic. Circumstances come together and, wham!, you’ve turned into a mouse, a lion or mythical predatory deer. The law accepts that accidents happen in the surprise of a first shift, though you might never forgive yourself. After that first time, however, you’re expected to control things. That’s where the Magical Probation Department, the MPD, comes in.

Angela Jones has worked for the Magical Probation Department as a caseworker her entire career. Now she’s plumpish, of a certain age and ready to scream at the unfairness of it all. Her caseload has been tripled as her male colleagues jostle to get the newly vacated Captain’s position. Angela isn’t allowed to look into the strange magic emanations downtown because she’s probably just imagining things. Now there’s a dragon and she’s coaxing a former secretary turned mouse out from under a conference table.

Caseworker Angela Jones is a great character and is not a warrior, she gets puffed climbing a flight of stairs. Men only fall at her feet if they trip. She’s not anyone in particular, just an often overlooked mid-level civil servant with a pet goldfish. What Angela Jones is is the person you want on your side in a crisis. As a career public servant, Angela once had faith in the system but with each unthinking remark, each passing over, that faith has eroded into a grim determination to do right by her clients of nothing else.

I want to believe that the sexism that runs rampant in the world of MFD is an artefact of that world and believe this world left that behind decades ago. Given the white hot thrum of anger Baumgartner has running through this novel, I can only assume that they have been placed and seen things that I have not. Despite this thread of anger, Baumgartner does not tear all male characters with the same brush. Yes, most men Angela deals with are horrifyingly sexist but it is the system that provokes Angela’s anger and constantly being told by men and women alike that this is how things are.

‘Shift Happens’ is a fun, cosy read. I liked it but it’s not a book I will rave about. It’s lighter than Jim Butcher’s ‘Dresden Files’ or Seanan Macguire’s ‘October Daye’ series but it has that same sense of settling in for the long haul. A series you’ll pick up while you’re sick on the couch and consume hole. This is a book for a day when things are too hard for your brain and a fantasy epic or a Science Fiction opus are both just too heavy, both literally and figuratively.

I feel we’ll be hearing more from Baumgartner.

LR Richardson

May 2021

Shift Happens by T. M. Baumgartner

(pub: Speculative Turtle Press, 2020. 266 page paperback. Price: $ 9.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-95286-501-5)

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