Columbine: Wild Blood is the third in the Switchers trilogy. In the other two, Switchers and Midnight’s Choice, there is no mention of fairies, although the children, Tess, Kevin and Martin, have a fairy gift, the ability to shapeshift, or as they call it, “Switch”. As Tess and Kevin learn in the last book, they are in fact descendants of the Tuatha de Danaan, the Irish Fair Folk. From their fairy blood comes their ability to assume the shapes of animals and other creatures, although they will lose the ability once they reach the age of fifteen. At that time they have to choose a permanent form.

While in the first book the Switchers save the entire world from ice death and in the second they save Dublin from a future plague of vampires, this book is a more muted family affair. Tess goes to stay with her cousins in the Irish countryside just before her fifteenth birthday. She is still undecided about what form to take, and hates the thought of losing her gift: “her human mind was wondering how she would survive when she couldn’t Switch any longer. Like stepping back into prison, it would be. For a life sentence.”

She goes into a wild wood near a cliff looking for privacy to Switch, but is quite unnerved by its strange atmosphere. She thinks she sees a shadowy figure with antlers, and hears a voice whispering her name. Another time, looking at the moonlit wood through the farmhouse window, she sees mysterious flashing lights. Tess’s aunt believes that there are fairies in the wood, but she tells her cousin Orla “there’s no such thing as fairies…They’re just old stories. From a time when people were… less sophisticated”.

She has to think again though when she meets her uncle’s twin brother Declan. He was a Switcher who chose to become one of the Tuatha de Danaan when he reached fifteen. He is now eternally young, lives in a sidhe, and has mastered several fairy powers, such as the power of illusion or glamour, transforming other people and things, and controlling the weather. Tess finally realizes: “life was full of inexplicable happenings. And in their insistence on concocting ‘logical’ explanations, people tried to force their world into the confines of a set of laws that made it seem much smaller and less interesting than it really was.”

Declan tries to persuade Tess to join him, and takes her to a fairy gathering in Ben Bulben. But Kevin, who is camping nearby, is convinced she should stay human, because only humans can make a difference in the world. He feels they have a responsibility to protect the animals and the wild places, and that having been Switchers has given them the strength to do it.

A recurring theme in this trilogy is “rats are amazing!” Switching into rat form and enjoying the feelings of rat strength, courage and comradeship is one of the best experiences the children have. Kevin seriously considers remaining a rat. In this book he plays Pied Piper and draws the rats away from danger, although the spoiled farm-rats don’t much enjoy their new life in the wild wood! Tess also turns into a hare, goat, kestrel, jackdaw and other birds, making the most of her last days. If you could only take one form, I wonder what you would choose?