Still Life with Shape-Shifter by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The second book in this series is much better than the first, in my opinion. I found Melanie to be a more sympathetic character--the protective older sister who's practically raised her shape-shifting sister, Ann. Ann is young and heedless, fun-loving and full of enthusiasm. She doesn't worry about much of anything, whereas Melanie worries constantly. Enter Brody Westerbrook, a secondary character in book one, who is researching a book on shapeshifters, and all of Melanie's instincts go on high alert. Matters are soon complicated by their mutual attraction and Ann's mischievous impulse to invite Brody to go with them for lunch, dinner, and pie. Soon, though, Melanie starts noticing that Ann tires more easily, a concern echoed by Ann's boyfriend William, brother to Dante from the first book.
The chapters from Melanie's point of view alternate with chapters from Janet's point of view. Janet starts out as a teenage girl who has compassion for an injured wolf, first feeding and then bandaging his leg. Since this is a book about shapeshifters, it comes as no surprise to readers that the wolf is only a wolf half the time and the rest of the time is a teenage boy. The two develop a friendship and then fall in love, a relationship that continues even as Janet goes to college and graduate school.
It takes until nearly the end of the novel before the two storylines intersect. I kept waiting and waiting, trying to figure out how the characters were connected since they lived in separate states and didn't seem to have anything in common other than their loved ones' genetic trait of shapeshifting. Shinn left the timeline purposefully vague--it's not clear until the last couple of chapters when Janet's story actually takes place.
I am curious to see how many books Shinn writes in this series. This one has a lot of world-building aspects, establishing more rules and context for the existence of shapeshifters, more parameters and potential characters. I have a hard time knowing how to categorize it, as I can't quite bring myself to label it fantasy, although in many ways it is. I may change my mind later--who knows?
For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. There are a few sex scenes and some swearing. Nothing terribly explicit, though.
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