The Shape of Desire
by Sharon Shinn
Cover Artist: Jonanthan Barkat
Review by Harriet Klausner
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781937007171
Date: 03 April 2012 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Maria Devane knows, as she has for fifteen years, that Dante Romano is her soul mate. She loves him deeply and accepts totally that no one will ever take his place in her heart.
Tthough she believes Dante returns her love; his feelings are not as intense as he holds back somewhat due to his fears of injuring his beloved when he becomes a different out of control wild animal every month. His fears are realistic as he has no control over when the change occurs and increasingly, he roams around for longer periods of time and over greater distances.
Maria worries about her beloved as he spends decreasing time in his human form and subsequently diminishing time with her. She has proven her loyalty to him by remaining silent about his shapeshifting condition though she panics that one day soon he will never return. Her love induced rationalization that he would harm no one ends when extremely brutal assaults seemingly by a feral beast begin happening in nearby parks. Her worst nightmare is realized as she knows she must inform authorities.
This is an excellent urban romantic fantasy starring two people in love but whose feelings seems to be a handicap to both of them; as their relationship grows dysfunctional. The key is that readers will accept shapeshifting as genuine mostly because of the relationship between the lead couple.
Maria is a superb protagonist as she goes through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief; in reaction to her changes Dante does too. For years she was in denial as she insists all is well though she wished he shared more of the animal with her; Dante adopted her rationalization. When the attacks start, she turns to anger as she wonders why this is happening to her when she has been loyal; Dante is raging too as he insists he is not the predator though he has a niggling doubts regarding his innocence. She hopes and prays that Dante is not the beast of the parks; he hopes and prays he finds a way to remain with his beloved. Finally she goes into complete depression followed by acceptance that their love has turned unrequited since the beast took control; Dante feels depressed too until he seems to accept the beast has apparently won the inner struggle.
Character driven, the superb storyline is fast-paced and filled with plenty of action. The mystery of the assaults is well done to enhance the suspense that love has failed this couple. With a nod to her own classic work The Shape Changer's Wife, but much more poignant and passionate with the increasingly bittersweet love story, Sharon Shinn affirms why over the past decade she has been one of the sub-genre's great romantic fantasists