Sharon Shinn is best known for two series: Samaria and Twelve Houses. She also has a number of other books, mostly stand-alone, for both adults and teens, as well as novelettes and short stories in several anthologies. The Shape of Desire is the first book in what has been announced as at least a trilogy, entitled The Shifting Circle.
Maria Devane has had a secret for fifteen years: her boyfriend, Dante, is a shapeshifter who spends at least part of every month roaming the world on four legs instead of two. She’s never minded, until a string of brutal attacks plagues local parks. Has Dante finally lost his mind to his curse, or is it something else?
A very different love story
Most romances tend to be rather poetic next to real life. There’s a lot of floweriness to it, and a sense that, now that they’ve met, the lovers in question could never live life without each other in the future. Perhaps you think I’m overstating, but I hope you get my point. This is not the case with Shape of Desire. Maria is a very strong, very independent woman. She’s had to be; Dante is simply not a reliable person because of his uncontrolled shapeshifting. Maria figures out what she wants to do and does it. She could very well get on with her life without Dante in it, and both characters are aware of it. In so many ways, her life would be easier if she did. But she always chooses not to, because she doesn’t want to. This is one of the more realistic portrayals of a mature, healthy romantic relationships that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
Contemporary literary fantasy
Usually when you see ‘shapeshifters’ and ‘contemporary setting’ you automatically come up with ‘urban fantasy.’ This isn’t the case for Shape of Desire, even with the mystery who-done-it plot running through the romance. Shinn’s emphasis here is not on action, thrills, or suspense; it’s on the characters’ relationships and how they deal with the situations they find themselves in. As a result, this is a subtler read than anything I’ve seen in the urban fantasy genre. I enjoyed the slower pace and the more relaxed tension. However, if you’ve picked up this book expecting something akin to Patricia Briggs, you might not find this to be your cup of tea. Maria does not pick up a gun and go hunting a killer; her main concern is if Dante is a killer. She doesn’t get into any fights; she isn’t even a witness to any. She’s an accountant, not a detective. The mystery plot is eclipsed by the tension Maria and Dante have in deciding what the next few years of their relationship are going to look like.
Why you should read this book?
I enjoyed this book for several reasons. First, Shinn is a beautiful writer. Her strength is in understated scenes and beautiful descriptions. As a result, this entire book is somewhat understated. I enjoyed the romantic line and felt satisfied by the conclusion reached by both Maria and Dante. Again, however, don’t pick this book up if what you’re really looking for is urban fantasy.