Still Life with Shape-Shifter by Sharon Shinn

Still Life with Shape-Shifter (A Shifting Circle Novel)

(Description nicked from B&

“Melanie Landon and her half-sister share a unique bond. For her entire life, Melanie has hidden the fact that Ann is a shape-shifter. The never-ending deception is a heavy weight to bear, but Melanie is determined to keep Ann’s secret and protect her from a world that simply wouldn’t understand.

For months, Melanie hasn’t seen or heard from Ann, in either of her forms. When a man shows up saying he’s there about her sister, Melanie fears the worst. But Brody Westerbrook doesn’t have information about Ann—he’s in search of it.

A freelance writer, Brody intends to include Ann in a book he’s writing about the existence of shape-shifters. While Melanie is immediately drawn to the stranger on her doorstep, she denies his claims, knowing that trusting him isn’t an option.

But when Ann finally appears looking thin and sick, Melanie realizes exposure is the least of their worries. Protecting her sister has always been such an enormous part of Melanie’s life, but as Ann’s health rapidly deteriorates, Melanie must come to grips with the fact that saving her may mean letting go…”

Where the first book in this series was about trust, this one is about love, pure and simple–the kind of love that gives all and asks nothing in return.  At the center of this is Ann, who is wasting away as the use of her shape-shifting slowly drains her life away.  Ann is a woman full of life, and it’s almost impossible not to love her, despite her seeming indifference to that very life that others value.  Her partner (someone from the first novel, although I won’t mention who) and her sister stand by her no matter what, but that loyalty comes at a cost.

The thing that I like best about these novels is how understated they are.  Don’t expect grand declarations of love or passion, and don’t expect heroics.  When I read this book, I saw the quiet ways in which we support our loved ones on a day to day basis.  So many books go for the drama and the fireworks, but Shinn beautifully portrays the things that we do for love without even thinking about it.  Interestingly, there’s a side-story woven through the main narrative about a young woman who falls in love with a shape-shifter whom she meets by chance, and the tale of their admittedly star-crossed love.  Both narratives work well together.

The author’s worldbuilding is also very good.  It made me smile to see how the characters tackle the mundane details of raising a shape-shifter.  The families are fairly insular as a result, but not hermits.  They mix in the real world as much as anybody else, with all the concerns that such actions bring.  I was especially amused at the images of small children turning randomly into fluffy puppies.  Yes, I’m a sucker for cute fluffy things, so perhaps this book was right up my alley.

This is one of those series that I feel doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.  There’s no lack of interesting things going on, but the low-key tone tends to be something that many readers don’t like as much.  I’d urge you to give this story a try, though, because there’s a lot to appreciate in it.  Still Life with Shape-Shifter is a softly poignant tale of the power of love.

Also by this author: Jenna Starborn, The Shape of Desire

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on February 15, 2013.

Series: Shifting Circle
ISBN: 9780425256817
Publisher: Ace
Page Count: 352
Publication Date: November 6, 2012
Acquired: Provided by the publisher
Author Website
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