The Last Phase Shift, by David Frauenfelder, is the third novel in a series of what are best described as steampunk fantasies. If you want even more, there are also some separate short stories. The focus is the continent of Borschland, alternately resident in the Indian Ocean of our own world, and an equivalent place in a parallel Earth. The occupants live with constant knowledge that they could experience the switch between worlds - The Phase Shift - at any moment.
This continent is a vivid place, populated with humans at a roughly Victorian or Edwardian level of technology, together with sundry intelligent creatures, most notably the bears who immediately commend themselves as fascinating.
The previous two books describe the migration of Sherm, an ice hockey player from our own world, to Borschland, and his many struggles and adventures there. I have read them, but I am sure that this book could be enjoyed in its own right by those who have not. Relevant pieces of back-story are woven skilfully into the tale when necessary. By the time of this story, Sherm is starting to take more of a back seat in favour of the next generation. I'm sure every reader will find his or her own favourite character there.
This particular story opens up the alternate world in ways which had not been done before, prompted by the actions of a small group which wants to stop the whole phase shift process from ever happening again. This world-level question interleaves with issues on a much more personal scale, and these connections constantly call motives and actions into question.
Ice hockey has always been central to the Borschland experience, and a series of matches forms the core of this book. My knowledge of that game is very slight, but that did not in the least affect my enjoyment of the story: quite the reverse in fact, as I started to appreciate the sport a little more.
Whether you read The Last Phase Shift for its engaging characters, its use of sport (complete with geeky sports stats), its portrayal of conflict between two superficially similar groups with opposing agendas, or simply for the delightful zaniness of Borschland and its handful of neighbouring countries, there will be a lot to enjoy. For my part, it has urged me to revisit the previous two volumes in the series. Whether or not this book recounts the last phase shift is a matter you must find out for yourself: I very much hope it won't be the last excursion into The Continent. The Last Phase Shift comes highly recommended by me.