I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have bought this book, but the author is part of the Kansas Bunch*. Exchange is Dale Cozort’s first effort, and while it’s got a few warts, it has a lot going for it as well.

Bias alert: I know Dale. He’s a good guy. If I didn’t honestly like his book, I simply wouldn’t review it. Strangers don’t get that same courtesy.

I’m going to start by picking at the first couple of pages. Exchange wasn’t as clean out of the gate as it could have been. Logistically, I was confused, and though the situation was inherently confusing and hectic, I had drawn a mistaken impression of the perimeter of the exchange zone that fuddled me. Then there’s a paragraph of backstory about the protagonist’s daughter that sticks out badly.

“Uh, oh,” I thought.

Then the story gets cranking, the backstory info is covered gracefully again where it should have been, good people emerge, many more bad people emerge, and the most interesting people are the ones you simply can’t classify. I like stories with people like that. Everyone has their own agenda.

So here’s what’s going on: Every once in a while, a patch of our world switches places with a patch of an alternate Earth. The exchange lasts a couple of weeks and then everything switches back. On the other world humans never rose, but many other mammals picked up a pretty good dose of intelligence to fill the void. There are some pretty clever critters out there, and the bats are freakin’ crazy. The mightiest of the alternate mammals are the bears, who can apparently shrug off many rounds from high-powered rifles (twinge of skepticism). Venturing out into the forests of Alternate-Earth is “going into bear country.”

I might have named the novel Bear Country.

While the bears are the poster-children of the more-dangerous mammals, it’s the monkeys you really have to watch out for, and the wolves are pretty gnarly, too. But there’s one other creature out there even worse than those. There are people out there, nasty ones, who stayed behind after previous exchanges.

There’s only a few hours notice before one of these exchanges takes place. During that time the city is evacuated as much as possible (it always seems to be a city that gets sucked to the other side) and the military moves as much stuff into the exchange zone as they can. Then of course there’s the crazies — also known as the protagonist’s former boyfriends — she sure can pick ’em.

[Flashback to alpha female telling protagonist something like “I don’t know why, but I think you will play an important role in all this.” Aargh. Note to self: if I feel the need to justify a big decision as a hunch on the part of the decider that way, better to just not. Either decide if this is where I want to spend my coincidence**, or restructure so there is no decision. But I digress.]

One of the cool things about this story is that I started to notice things that contradicted what the characters believed, and then the characters started to notice them, too, and question their beliefs. Give the alert reader a cookie! Another cool thing is that you start to see something much larger unfold, and anchoring it all you have a protagonist who must grow and accept her own shortcomings.

Something big is going on. Bigger than cities getting sucked temporarily into another, more dangerous world. There are hints, and at the end of this book much is explained. But not everything. The book has an end, a real true end, but there is still a lot more going on.

Here’s why you should buy this book: it’s got some warts but it introduces a great universe, some interesting characters (including strong females), and there’s a lot going on. Buy it to say, “Hey, Dale, you put yourself out there and I respect that. Keep going.” Also, the more of you who buy it, the more motivated Dale will be to write the next one. Could Exchange be better? Absolutely. Am I going the read the next one? You bet your sweet ass I am.

* I don’t think the Kansas Bunch knows they’re called this yet. Members of the Bunch who are reading this: get used to it.
** The coincidence is the moment in the story that transforms it from ‘this could happen to anyone’ to ‘this did happen to this particular person’. It’s why they’re in the story, and not someone else. A second coincidence… well, you better be Douglas Adams.

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