When 18-year-old Rose arrives in Temnota from the US as an exchange student, she finds the country even more oppressive than she thought. The Secret Service has just imprisoned Libera, a young rebel leader. A shape-shifter, she can escape by taking any form, so they’ve locked her away in a cell impenetrable to her kind, and are about to execute her.
Rose teams up with her classmate, Gavrilo, the prince of all shape-shifters, to find a way to unlock Libera’s cell to save her. According to a legend, such a way existed a long time ago. Rose takes Gavrilo back to the past to find it. A Secret Service Major, an evil genius of shifters, stands in their way.
Rose and Gavrilo fall for each other, but she has a disease that prevents them from touching. Will they beat the death clock and save the country and their love?
Targeted Age Group:: YA
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was born in a dull and totalitarian country with no magic. I thought this book would compensate for that.
I also thought that it will show the young people the dangers of totalitarianism, but not in a didactic or moralistic way.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main character, Gavrilo, is me at my young age, but with more charisma and more abilities. His friend Rose is the girlfriend I wanted at that age. A time traveler who can take me places, and be smart and good-looking as well.
When I regain consciousness, I see Mrs. Nissman, the school nurse, leaning over me. Her green eyes are wide. Her eyebrows push together, forming a vertical crease above her nose. The corners of her mouth droop. I guess she’s worried about my health. Is it possible I’m that sick? Am I dying? If I am, will any girl bring flowers to my funeral? Or will they chicken out?
And what kind of coffin will I be buried in? Probably a cheap pine box. But it’s more important what’s inside than what’s outside. And everybody will realize inside is a sensitive, talented and even handsome young man, the Prince of the Temnotian Shifters. Death and an ambal guard cut short his promising career. Very sad.
When Mrs. Nissman sees me opening my eyes, she smiles. “Are you feeling better, Gavrilo?”
“I’m good,” I croak. “I’ve been shot with Lebutal before. Nothing to it.”
Slowly, I sit up on the bed. We are alone. My neck hurts where the ambal injected me. I’ve got a headache, too. Lebutal, a central nervous system depressant, messes with your head. Tablets are bad, but the shots are worse.
“I think the ape used too high of a dose on you, Gavrilo. If we lived in a different country, your parents could’ve lodged a complaint.”
Yes, if we lived in a different country. But some people still don’t get it. Last year, one senior’s parents did lodge a complaint against the same guard. The kid got his grades lowered across the board. That kid is now in the army instead of school. So he’s aiming his gun at the Bulgarians and Hungarians across the border. In his spare time, he’s picking potatoes for free at one of the collective farms or mining ore at a government mine.
Mrs. Nissman orders me to raise my shirt and listens to my heart. She has an American stethoscope, Littmann Cardiology, with a bunch of electronic gizmos built in. Kids say she is married to the assistant mayor.
“You’re in trouble, young man,” Mrs. Nissman says when she finishes.
“Something’s wrong with my heart?” I drop my shirt.
“Your heart’s fine. But you shouldn’t shift on the principal, Gavrilo. Show some respect for authority. Everyone craves respect in this country. You’re a senior now. Don’t forget that.”
She sighs. “At least you won’t be able to shift for 12 hours now. Thank Goodness. You are in a lot of trouble already.”
I make a sad face. She smiles. She’s pretty and fit, for an old woman in her thirties. And she looks like my hero, Libera Thor. Almost. No one’s really that good looking.
An inability to shift is the normal effect of Lebutal. But who says I’m normal? The drug affects me only for six hours, if that. No one realizes this. I’ve been able to hide this advantage from everyone, even my parents.
“The principal wants to expel you, Mr. Shifter Prince,” she says, using my school handle.
“Your father’s coming to pick you up.”
That’s not good. That’s bad. That’s stinking awful. My heart turns heavy as lead and sinks into my stomach. I need the diploma. I need to go to school. I want to teach kids chemistry. I don’t want to shoot at Hungarians.
“What do I do, Ms. Nissman?”
“Can you promise me you will stop shifting into teachers in school? You’re worse than a Paladin.”
Wait a sec. I’m not worse than a Paladin. To say that I’m worse than one means they’re bad. But they aren’t. The Paladins of the People, or just simply the Paladins, are anti-government rebels. Libera is their leader. And I’m just a kid. A high school student doing pranks. I promised not to shift? Yeah, I can promise anything. Theoretically. But I can’t lie to Ms. Nissman.
“Um,” I say.
“Either promise, or bye, bye diploma.”
I’m cornered. If I can’t save Libera Thor, who will? Bogdan can’t do anything alone. The Paladins? They haven’t done anything so far.
What is worse? Losing the diploma or letting Libera die? Well… I’m just a kid, after all. Perhaps the government lets her leave the country in exchange for a foreign aid. I’ve heard the rumors. That would kill two birds with one stone. Save her life and let me graduate. And if they won’t let her leave? I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Life is not fair and then you have to make promises you can’t break. But I have no choice. “Okay. I promise.”
“Let me talk to the principal, then. You’ll have to apologize to him.”
I think about his fish eyes on me and his dead smile, and I shiver in the warmth of the room. Apologizing to Mr. Pike will be tough. Like walking on hot coals is tough.
“Sure, Mrs. Nissman,” I say. “I will.”
My father enters the room. He has such an angry look on his face. When he’s angry, I worry. Uh-oh. More trouble. Physical trouble of the first degree. Child abuse. I prefer the power of words, but he might not ask me. He hit me before.
Naah. He won’t touch a senior.
“You’re in trouble, boy,” he says.
Perchance he would. This country and my family are not democracies. I wish I could shift into a stone right now. Because, as an American song goes, a stone feels no pain. Or is it a rock?
Whatever it is, I’ll face him like a man. I hope I can still find a way to save Libera without breaking my word.
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