Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Shelby and the Shifting Rings

by A. M. Veillon


A. M. Veillon wrote Shelby and the Shifting Rings after noticing "a lack of new books for kids age 10 and up with a strong female as the main character". Enter Shelby Shodworth, the girl with the awful name but the big sword. She's an orphan who lives with her grouchy uncle Leviticus, a man who likes to be known as the Colonel.

At the age of 12 Shelby is sent off to Mrs Peabonnet's Academy for Girls. This is a place of daft names and quaint subjects, and Shelby's timetable looks like it came out of one of those children's joke books. Professor Nitpic is teaching Logic and Equations, Professor Sniptip is in charge of Fencing, and Professor Primprop is in charge of Etiquette and Manners, to name just a few. The school itself is a gothic pile complete with eccentric teachers and old-fashioned traditions.

Shelby's first year is marked by encounters with Harrietta Hindmore, an older girl with a rich father. Harrietta's sole purpose seems to be to make Shelby's life difficult. Fortunately Shelby has the friendship of her brainy friend Molly to sustain her.

Some of the above may seem familiar. Anyone who has read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone can't fail to notice the similarities in the plot. Although the subject matter here is time travel rather than magic, the parallels between these books are hard to miss. There is even a strange creature that hatches out of an egg, which Shelby and her friend must keep secret; a suspiciously nasty Professor in the mold of Snape; and a stranger who jumps out at our heroine in the woods.

Shelby and the Shifting Rings doesn't stand the comparison well. The story lacks the humour and depth that allows the Potter books to appeal to both adult and child readers. Moreover, the characters are clichéd, and every bit as unimaginative as their relentlessly alliterative names would suggest.

It's possible that stock characters and cliche&eactue;s would not matter to some young readers who do not read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. But anyone who reads this genre regularly will find Shelby and the Shifting Rings disappointingly transparent.

One of the good points about this book is its pace, which is about right for the 8 to 12 age range. It's fairly fast moving, apart from one or two passages that rely on the lectures of Professor Kincaid to move things on. Kincaid tends to talk about destiny and fate in vaguely old-fashioned fantasy speak. Yet his manner is less surprising than the willingness of people like Shelby and Mrs Peabonnet to believe everything he says. Characters are so easily convinced of the reality of time travel that they come across as gullible. Surely, when Shelby journeyed back into the past, they should have been trying to burn her as a witch rather than accepting her immediately as their rescuer?

Shelby and the Shifting Rings is meant to be about empowering females to realise their dreams. It's true that Shelby herself takes centre stage, and there's more to her than mere beauty or brutality. But in most circumstances she just does what is fated. By accident of birth she becomes a Defender of Time. She doesn't have to struggle particularly hard in order to save the world, or even to shape her own destiny against all the odds. As a role model she fails to inspire, because she is no different from any other hero or heroine following a path that has been laid out for him or her. Shelby is ultimately too derivative to be interesting.

Book Details

Year: 2005

Categories: Books

  Kids     Science fiction
  Female Protagonist  

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson