The novel is an engaging read. When we are in 1985, the perspective from a teenager is spot-on. The dialogue is believable; the brush strokes that created the characters are specific enough for the kids to have an identity of their own. Some of the action takes place at a traveling carnival at night, and those settings are naturally freakish. The atmosphere helps propel the story. As an aside, there are a number of references to British pop singers and groups which the author uses to anchor his story in 1985. None of them were familiar to me, so I could have lived without these references. There are a number of unsettling set pieces – something odd is happening in the house of an unsavory character, something horrible lives in the tunnels below the town, and there is the carnival itself. There is a scene involving a Ferris wheel which is quite imaginative which Mr. Savile uses to good effect.
Where the novel falters, I think, is in the present day narrative. I found this section more distracting and less absorbing. Minor characters play larger roles, and their presence doesn’t add much except distract the reader. There are a series of sections that involve a police interrogation. These aren’t convincing and the police officer’s demeanor changes unpredictably. By far, the passages involving the kids were considerably more interesting and gripping than the adult sections. The loss of focus on the teen experiences came with a cost to the narrative. I think the author should have maintained the storyline entirely in 1985 – even concluding the story within that time period. For me, that would have held the work together.
Altogether, I found The Shiftling to be a good read (about a 3.5) but not among the best from DarkFuse.