01 February, 2013

Review: The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

Sharon Shinn has been all about confusing her readers since her career started. Is she chicken, or is she fish? Taken as a whole, her career makes perfect sense. She writes fairly standard romances with strong science fiction elements and extremely real human interaction. Shinn understands power dynamics in a way that sets her apart. She breaks your heart by loading her implausible worlds with plausibility. In that sense, The Shape of Desire is anything but a departure. Taken on it's own, I can see why it confused readers in it's hardcover release.

The Shape of Desire is a rumination on human relationships. What we are willing to trade away to have specific people in our lives and what we are not. In the case of Maria, she has given up stability. Her lover claims to be a shape shifter. Maria has never seen Dante change out of his human form. She has never seen anyone change from a human form. What Maria knows is that when she is with Dante she is blissfully happy and when she is not she falls apart. Much of the book focuses on her relationships with other people. Although forced to keep Dante a secret, Maria is close to her family. Her coworkers are involved in each other's lives, including that of a woman in an abusive relationship. While trying to befriend her Maria is forced to consider harder questions about both their lives. When is concern misplaced? What does an outsider know of the risks and rewards inside a relationship?

Shinn is successful in creating a memorable tale with important questions at it's heart. She's less successful in making me care about Dante and Maria. I never connected with Dante, despite the evolution of his character. I sometimes grew impatient with Maria. I was more interested in some of the coworkers and I was frankly disappointed to have all of Maria's questions so neatly answered. The book would be more powerful as an open ended single title than as a start of a new series. That said, there is an unanswered question at the end of the book that neatly underlines the theme of the whole. What will we allow ourselves to believe or accept to have the thing we love? Late in the book Maria, who hungers for a child, has the opportunity to raise one. Does she have a right to this child? Has this child been stolen? For the reader, as for Maria, the question hangs as something that cannot be examined too closely. Maria has what she longed for. Is that enough?


  1. Great review meoskop! Interesting sounding book... My favourite Sharon Shinn book is still Archangel :)

  2. Oh me too. This is VERY different from that. More straight fiction with an aspect of magical realism.