The Shapeshifter

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The Shapeshifter
The Cover of Finding the Fox
Author Ali Sparkes
Cover artist David Wyatt
Country United Kingdom
Genre Fantasy, Thriller
Publisher Oxford University Press
Published 2006–2008
Media type Print (Paperback)

The Shapeshifter is a series of books by Ali Sparkes. The series follows the life of a boy named Dax Jones and is primarily set in England, firstly in the Cornwall area and later in the Lake District. During the first book, Finding the Fox, Dax discovers his ability to shapeshift into a fox, and is whisked away from his hated stepfamily by the government. Dax is one of a number of Colas (Children of Limitless Ability), young people who possess amazing supernatural powers. Some of his classmates are able to heal, move objects with their mind, communicate with the dead, or see into the future. These children attend a school called Tregarren College in Cornwall, which is later destroyed by a tidal wave, and the children move to Fenton Lodge, in the Lake District.


Finding the Fox[edit]

Main article: Finding the Fox

When Dax Jones discovers that he has the power to transform himself into a fox, a mysterious government official arrives and takes him to a secret school where Colas (Children of Limitless Ability) are trained. These children possess amazing abilities, such as telekinesis and healing. At this school, Dax soon makes friends, and feels more at home than he ever has before. But other, more sinister forces have taken an interest in these gifted children, and he soon finds himself in terrible danger. With nowhere else to turn, Dax must rely on his new friends to uncover the truth behind a chilling future that awaits them ...

Running the Risk[edit]

Dax is beginning to get used to his new life at Tregarren College, and has come to terms with his unusual ability to shapeshift into a fox. However, after a traumatic incident at his friend Lisa's house, Dax's world is about to be turned upside down. A surprise awaits him in the form of his friend Gideon's long-lost brother and sister, and they aren't the only things he has to worry about. Something is happening to the other COLAs, something that only he seems to see, and it's getting worse. When he tries to warn his friends, they call him paranoid, leaving him to deal with the danger alone. What is really going on at Tregarren College?

Going to Ground[edit]

Main article: Going to Ground

Following the events of Running the Risk, Dax and the other COLAs are sent home to recover. However, during this time off, Lisa experiences a vision which warns her that Gideon is in deadly peril. She and Dax attempt to rescue him, only to find that he is unharmed ... at the moment. But strange and unexplainable electrical faults are taking place all over the country, and the government seem to think that Gideon's powers are responsible. Now they will stop at nothing to find him and contain the threat they believe he poses. Dax, Gideon, Lisa and Mia set off across the country, using their skills like never before to outwit their pursuers, whilst also trying to uncover the real cause of these bizarre events and ultimately clear Gideon's name.

Dowsing the Dead[edit]

The Shapeshifter series continues with Dax and his friends settling into their new sanctuary in the Lake District. The whole place has been fortified so that the COLAs won't ever be under threat again. After dodging death once too often for his liking, Dax is looking forward to a quieter time: building a treehouse in the grounds, shifting into a fox or a falcon, and exploring the countryside. But all is not well in the spirit world – strange messages are coming through and Dax, Gideon, Lisa and Mia must once again join forces. Could the messages be coming from Luke and Catherine, Gideon's dead brother and sister? And are they even truly dead? Of course, if they're not, the friends have to somehow rescue Luke from Catherine's evil clutches – the same Catherine that Dax barely defeated last time.

Stirring the Storm[edit]

In this exciting finale Dax and his friends are moved up the country in a bid to keep their identities a secret, but are the special forces who are transporting them their allies, or are the COLAs being used as pawns in a much bigger scheme? Once again it is Dax who is at the centre of things ... and it's him they want most of all. But who are 'they'? And who's the brains behind this master plan? Dax must save his friends from being sold as commodities to the highest bidder, and in the process find out where the children really came from and how they ended up with such extraordinary powers.


A group of special teenagers, each with an incredible power. They live together and learn how to use their abilities, protected from those who wish to harm them. Now, for one short week they are let out into the world, with strict instructions that they must not use their powers. But good intentions are easy ... following them through is a different matter.

A Life and Death Job[edit]

The first edition of the highly anticipated sequel to The Shapeshifter series focusses on Lisa Hardman, Dax's loyal friend throughout the original series. For Lisa, every day is about life and death, because she can hear dead people talking. And they just won't leave her alone. But on a trip to London it's the living who need her help. Someone is kidnapped and this time Lisa knows she has to help, even though it means walking into mortal danger. Now that Lisa is in fear for her own life, is there anyone who can help her?

Mind Over Matter[edit]

Gideon and Luke are spending some quality family time, playing at being normal teenagers for once. They have no real reason to use their telekinetic powers in the small seaside town, and there are enough bodyguards around to keep them safe, right? Wrong. Someone is stalking them. A man with the cool, calm air of a brutal killer and Gideon and Luke are in his sights.

Trick or Truth[edit]

With his supernatural ability to conjure spectacular illusions, Spook Williams knows he is destined for greatness. So when he's kidnapped by a celebrity magician claiming to be his real father, he can't help but be intrigued ... Very soon, Spook is living the dream: bathing in a jacuzzi aboard a luxury yacht, rubbing shoulders with billionaires, and spending time with gorgeous magician's assistant, Kamilah ... But when he is asked to take part in a daring heist, will Spook be able to resist this opportunity to flex his powers?

Speak Evil[edit]

One moment Alex Teller is joking around with his brother Jacob. A split second later he finds himself thousands of miles away in the Dominican rainforest. Impossible, right? That's what Alex thinks. Until he meets Olu - a teenager with the paranormal ability to teleport anywhere in the world. With Olu, Alex can experience something he's not had for years - freedom. But at what price? A sinister presence is looming ... someone who knows about their powers and wants to use them for evil. Soon Alex is literally clinging to life. And Jacob must do something terrible to save him ...

The Burning Beach[edit]

When Mia washes up on an Irish beach she barely knows her own name. Gently cared for by a close-knit community while she struggles with amnesia, all Mia knows is that she has done something really, really bad:

She has killed people.

As the COLA Project desperately searches for its missing student Mia fights off her returning memories. She doesn’t want to know what she did. Her heart is broken and she can’t bear to know why. But the shockwaves of Mia’s actions are travelling around the world and could finish the project. If the rumours are true, everything will change. While Spook Williams broods in lockdown beneath Fenton Lodge, Dax Jones takes desperate action - flying across Europe to find help from a man who is meant to be dead ...

Major characters[edit]

Dax Jones[edit]

Dax (short for Daxesh) is the main character of the series. He has the ability to shapeshift into a fox, a peregrine falcon (in the second book) and an otter (in the fifth book). He lives with his neglective stepmother and friendly but annoying half sister. His father does not seem to take much of an interest in him, for reasons that are later revealed. Once at the college, he becomes close with Gideon, and later Lisa and Mia. Dax is described as having olive skin, thick brown hair and dark brown eyes. He has a strong will and is resilient, but can also be quite ruthless and stubborn. He has a tendency to misunderstand signs or warnings given to him by the spirit of a previous shapeshifter, who died before the series began.

Gideon Reader[edit]

Gideon is a telekinetic and Dax's best friend. He has fair hair, green eyes and a smattering of freckles. Gideon enjoys playing football, and is known for constantly eating chocolate yet never gaining any weight. He and his father live alone with their pet budgie, until they discover that Gideon has a long-lost brother and sister, named Luke and Catherine.

Lisa Hardman[edit]

Lisa is dowser, medium, clairvoyant and telepath. She is initially reluctant to accept her identity as a COLA, but, following the events of Finding the Fox, begins to come to terms with her powers. Lisa is very wealthy and lives in a mansion in the countryside with servants and her own pony. She is also very close to her father, Maurice Hardman, who is proud of her psychic gifts. She becomes quite friendly with Dax and Mia over the course of the series, although her somewhat impetuous nature often brings her into conflict with Gideon. She has blonde hair that is long until the Burning Beach, and dark blue eyes that are often described as a Cornish seaside in summer..

Mia Cooper[edit]

Mia is the most skilled healer ever to be brought to the COLA Club. She is very gentle and compassionate, as well as being a vegetarian. She is also shows the ability of pyrokinesis in book four onwards, and becomes somewhat more aggressive due to her black obsidian bracelet. She is best friends with Lisa, Dax and Gideon, as well as Luke. She becomes very sick in Finding the Fox because she absorbs too much pain while healing her friends. However, she later learns to channel this pain out of her body and destroy it. In Stirring the Storm, when the COLAs escape onto the pier Mia is shot, and Dax (as well as Spook, who has a fondness for her) fear that she is dead, but they later find she is perfectly fine. When people first meet her, they find themselves unable to stop staring slack-jawed at her (dubbed 'The Mia Effect'), despite her relatively ordinary features.

Spencer "Spook" Williams[edit]

Spook is the best illusionist in the series and considers himself to be a highly skilled magician. However, he is disliked by almost all of the other COLAs. He seems to be attracted to Mia, and is friends with a fellow illusionist named Darren Tyler. He dislikes Dax and Gideon, frequently insulting them. He particularly dislikes Dax. This is mainly because of Dax's unique power to shapeshift and having instincts that block him from seeing any of Spook's highly praised illusions. In Stirring the Storm, we discover that the two boys are in fact distant cousins. At least some of Spook's spitefulness can be put down to his father's cold, militaristic attitude towards him, and jealousy towards his two half-siblings.

Luke Reader[edit]

Luke is Gideon's triplet brother, and is almost identical to him, except for the fact that he wears glasses. He does not appear until Running the Risk, when it is discovered that his birth was kept secret from even his own father. He does not display any supernatural powers when brought to Tregarren and is therefore considered a 'dud'. Later, he holds back the sea to save the lives of his fellow COLAs and it is discovered that he was frightened of his immense telekinetic powers and had no desire to develop them. He supposedly dies in the process of saving his fellow students' lives from his evil sister Catherine. After realising he is still alive, Dax and his friends save him from Catherine in Dowsing the Dead and bring him back into the COLA Club, but his parasitic sister has been using him as a source of energy, rendering him mute. He later learns sign language to communicate.


Principal Patrick Wood[edit]

The principal of the COLA club in Finding the Fox, he is a kind of glamourist with the ability to charm people to an almost hypnotic degree. Only Dax is immune to his powers, for the same reason he cannot see/hear Spook's illusions: his animal instincts allow him to see only the truth where glamour is concerned. Wood uses these powers to charm the other students and members of staff into liking and obeying him. As Dax is able to see through this glamour and uncover the truth that Wood is attempting to kill a nosy reporter, Wood tries to get rid of Dax by shooting him and dropping his body down a mine shaft of 150 fathoms. A struggle ensues in which Wood himself falls into the mine shaft and Dax's life is saved by Owen.

Catherine Reader[edit]

Catherine is Luke and Gideon's triplet sister, separated at birth and raised in various children's homes in America. Her glossy dark hair and bright green eyes mean she looks nothing like the identical boys, and she is always full of energy. It is discovered towards the end of Running the Risk that she acts as a parasite, with the ability to absorb the powers of other COLAs (and normal people) through physical contact, which causes them to become lethargic. When she was a young child living with her first adoptive parents, she caused them to crash their car by taking all the energy out of them. She is the principal antagonist of Running the Risk and Dowsing the Dead as she seeks to permanently obtain the abilities of all the COLAs (by killing them). At the end of Dowsing the Dead she is shot, but she leeches Mia's healing power, and manages to escape into sanctuary with the French authorities. She is killed at the end of Stirring the Storm by Mia, who burns her to death using pyrokinesis.

Other characters[edit]

(Agent) Owen Hind[edit]

Owen is an government agent who works to find and bring COLAs to Tregarren, mentoring them and teaching them woodwork and bushcraft. He has dark curly shoulder-length hair, blue eyes and weathered hands, and has a tattoo of an eagle on his arm (a symbol of protection). He is very protective of his students. In certain parts of the books he is ruthless and cold, but his priority is always the COLAs. Even though Dax believes him to be his friend and trusts him with his life, in almost every book he feels that Owen is betraying them. For instance, in Finding the Fox it looks like he is helping Patrick Wood when the principal orders him to kill Dax, when he's actually doing the opposite. He eventually saves Dax's life by forcing him to shift and saving him from dropping 150 fathoms into a mine shaft, and in doing so kills Wood. Despite Dax's many doubts, Owen remains his loyal friend and a mentor/fatherlike figure when his own father is absent. This makes things understandably difficult for Dax when Catherine hangs Owen and Dax's father over the ocean, and then gives Dax the opportunity to save only one of them (in Stirring the Storm). To make the decision easier for Dax, Owen fakes his own death, although Dax and the others are later made aware that he is alive.

Paulina Sartre[edit]

The Principal (after Finding the Fox) and French teacher at Tregarren, she is an empath and psychic. She uses her powers to find other COLAs. She senses Maurice Hardman's accident as well as Lisa and rushes to help in Running the Risk. She is a kind woman and cares for each of the students. In "Dowsing the Dead", when Dax, Lisa, Mia and Gideon dowse for Luke, she watches over them to ensure they are safe.

Barry Blake[edit]

A glamourist who has the power to vanish from sight. However, this power is not very useful in making him inconspicuous, in the respect that he is rather clumsy and has a permanently stuffed nose which creates a whistling sound whenever he exhales. Again, Dax can detect him but only through the usual mediums of hearing and smell. A friend of Dax and Gideon, and in Dowsing the Dead the best friend of Clive.

Jessica Moorland[edit]

A psychic/medium who receives messages throughout the first book from Gideon's "Aunty Pam" and the wolf that was trying to contact Dax. She is heavily hypnotised by Patrick Wood in the first book to give him all of Dax's SCN slips (forms the mediums fill out with messages from dead spirits) to him, because she gets repeated message from the first shapeshifter to "stay away from the wood" (referring to Patrick Wood). The hypnosis goes so deep it makes her stop telling Dax the message even directly. She is released from Wood's power along with the other students after Wood's death. She loses her powers at the end of Running the Risk when Catherine steals them, but at the end of Stirring the Storm it is mentioned that some of the COLAs who lost their powers are showing signs of getting them back now Catherine has died.

Jacob and Alex Teller[edit]

Brothers who possess a telepathic link with each other. They can also mimic other people in voice and mannerisms. They both have nut brown hair and blue eyes, and do a very funny impression of Spook. They lighten everyone's mood near the end of Running the Risk.

Darren Tyler[edit]

An illusionist and friend of Spook Williams, one of the 'True Ten/Eleven' who keeps their powers when most of the COLAs do not. It is mentioned that he acts very chipper, like most of his illusionist friends, but Dax senses he is homesick and talks to him about it, arranging for his grandmother to visit the nearby town of Polgammon and see him more often. This cheers Darren up and he has stuck up for Dax on occasion afterwards. He has a go at Spook for setting a dog on Dax in Running the Risk and reports his friend to the teachers, although he remains Spook's best friend.

Jennifer Troke[edit]

One of the 'True Eleven', her power is glamour (specifically vanishing, like Barry). However, she is much better than Barry at being invisible, as she is less clumsy and can move about quietly. It is mentioned that she often appears by the elbows of other students and remarks on books which they are reading. She often gets Barry into trouble in lessons, but never gets into trouble as much herself, due to the ability to look innocent. In the last book, Gideon claims that she is attracted to Dax as she is seen staring at him and blushes whenever he comes nearby.


Clive is Dax's very close friend from before the series begins. They are separated in 'Finding the Fox' when Dax leaves to attend Tregarren, but are reunited in Going to Ground. Clive is considered a genius, and is taken in as one of the COLAs despite his lack of ability. He becomes roommates with Barry, with whom he shares a like/hate relationship. His love of technology has helped the COLAs on several occasions, although it had caused him to be continuously bullied before he attended COLA Club. He is quite straightforward and earned the nickname "Captain Tactless". In Stirring the Storm, when the COLAs are taken to be auctioned, Dax hears Mr Eades saying that if the COLAs do not go quietly, he will gladly slit Clive's throat seeing as he is not a COLA.

Caroline Fisher[edit]

Caroline is a reporter who was determined to find out the secret of the "Beast of Barks End". She threatened to bring the world's reporters into Tregarren if Principal Wood didn't talk to her. Wood used his glamour powers to hypnotise Caroline into thinking everything was in order, but, after realising she had brought a tape recorder, decided she'd have other tricks as well and swiftly decided to kill her. He tricked her into believing there was a bridge across the marsh and left her to drown. She becomes friends with Dax, Gideon, Mia, Lisa and the others after they save her from dying in the bog. She is grateful and sends a letter to Dax, which tells him he might not always be safe at Tregarren, and gives him a key to her bolt hole, the Owl Box, a solitary cottage hidden deep in the woods, should he ever need it. When he does go there in Going to Ground she sends them a warning phone message that the government has discovered the Owl Box's location and are going to get them. She is very determined and takes everything in her stride. She dislikes people who keep secrets and this is the reason she and Dax don't get along at first.


Finding the Fox was nominated for the Bolton Children's Book Award and the Dutch Kinderboekenweek, and was awarded the number one book in 2002.


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