The Shape Changer's Wife (Book Review)

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written by Sharon Shinn
published by Ace Books, October 1995
ISBN 044101061X; $12.95 list; Trade Paperback, 224 pp

As one might expect from the title, this book is of interest to the transformation fan. However, it's not about what you might think from the title...

The viewpoint character is one Aubrey, an apprentice magician being sent from his old master to a new master, Glyrenden, the greatest shape-shifter alive. Upon his arrival he meets the wizard's household, the cleaner/maid Arachne, the hunter Orion, and Glyrenden's wife Lilith.

From there the story gets deeper and deeper as the mystery of who these people are, who Glyrenden is, and what shape-shifting really means, is expanded, explained and explored. It's not a typical Tolkien-emulating quest; there's no world-threatening evil that must be stopped. There is simply one young man who learns that there is good and there is evil, and he decides what to do about it.

The Shape-Changer's Wife is a good book, but (in my view, at least) not a great book. There are two instances where changing into a new form is explored in detail, what it feels like to be the new form developed in detail. Both are critical to the plot. Many others are, unfortunately, mentioned but not deeply explored. Oh well...

The characters are developed, especially Glyrenden and Aubrey, and both are multifaceted images of the other. The other characters are much more two-dimensional, but there's actually a reason for it.

And, to make the book even more interesting, there is some discussion of moral responsibilities with shape-changing spells that I've never read about anywhere else. Best of all, the twist is perfectly logical and I'm still surprised that nobody else has thought of it.

In all, I recommend this book for a quiet afternoon's read. It won't shake your world, but it will certainly entertain, and make you think afterward.