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REVIEW: Shafter – Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Shafter - Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Space Opera, Young Adult

Reviewer: HL

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About The Book

Born in the abandoned subway shafts beneath First City, Trina measures life in the coin she steals from her wealthy father’s people living above. She gives little weight to her dying mother’s fairy tales about how her father will rescue Trina and her twin sister, taking them away from this planet. Yet the stars catch her attention every time she goes to the surface.

Trina is the protector, a role she created more from heroic tales in books her father gave them than anything in a shafter’s life. When she sees drunken aristocrats harassing laborers, she can’t turn away even though attacking them carries a death sentence. Her paternal grandfather discovers Trina before the enforcers can and offers everything she has ever desired—safety for her family and a way off Ceric.

Can she trust their family connection, or will the price of her dreams be more than Trina is willing to pay?

The Review

In the world of Ceric, society is divided. The upper class citizens are known as “polits”, and those who live in poverty below the surface are “shafters”. Trina, her sister Katie, and their mother are shafters – ignored by the polits, often hungry, and always too short of coin to pay for medical supplies. But the sisters’ father was a polit who seemingly abandoned their family for a dream, which makes it that much easier for Trina to resent the polits while also craving a better life that could have been available to them. 

When an opportunity to better her family’s circumstances in the form of her wealthy polit grandfather – a colonisation project that seems almost too convenient and good to be true – crosses her path, Trina seizes it…even if it conflicts with her family’s desires.

Shafter is not heavy on world building. There isn’t a strong sense of culture, community, customs, or technology, despite the sci-fi setting. The concept of a colonisation journey wasn’t really the focus, and it wasn’t an easily identifiable plot either, as the plot doesn’t exist in the form of an external conflict. So in that sense, this book may not be for all readers, especially those who crave deep and detailed worldbuilding. 

For me, however, ultimately the story wasn’t really about the plot or the worldbuilding – it was about the characters, their personal journeys, and their complicated relationships.

Trina is the more outgoing of the sisters – a risk-taker, a thief, and driven to better her family’s lives at just about any cost. Trina is too clever to trust things at face value and always searches for the upper hand, to maintain her agency. Katie is the more demure of the two, but no less of a vibrant personality. The sisters’ love for each other and their mother is evident in their every interaction, even when they disagree with each other’s beliefs and actions.

In particular, I was impressed with the character of the wealthy grandfather Samuel – whose chapters took me by surprise how much I looked forward to reading them.

I enjoyed Shafter a lot. It was fast-paced and engaging but never at the cost of character development. Margaret McGaffey Fisk has crafted a tightly-written and engaging character-driven tale about family, inequality, and how far one will go to succeed despite the odds stacked against them.

The Reviewer

H. L. is a Jewish Australian writer of LGBT+ fiction. She holds a Master of Arts in International Relations (2015) and a Bachelor of Media in Communications and Journalism (2012), both from the University of New South Wales.

She has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. She is the author of M/M fantasy romance novels Heart Of Dust and Soul Of Ash, Books 1 & 2 of the Death’s Embrace series.

She has had two speculative short stories published: “The Collector” in the 2014 Future Times Award Collection A Tick Tock Heart, and “Entente” in the 2020 Twisted Stories Award Collection Just Alice.   


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