“The Shape of Desire” by Sharon Shinn is a lyrical love story about a shapeshifter named Dante Romano and the woman, Maria Devane, who is inextricably tied to him. Maria continues to work at her job as an accountant but she lives for the ever diminishing times out of the month that her lover can live with her as a human. She has accepted all of his tales about changing into various animals over the years for increasingly longer periods of time and has never questioned him or his strictures and has arranged her entire life to accommodate his unusual circumstances. Complications with her coworkers and frightening murders in her town start to alter her relationship with Dante and force her to examine her goals and ultimate desires. Her unswerving devotion to Dante is tested as she finally interacts with his family and discovers that there are even more secrets that she has been unaware of. Escalating tension forces Maria to take action that may ultimately betray the lover that she is striving to protect and changes the dynamics of her relationship with her coworkers. The question is whether she can regain the equanimity that she has treasured for so many years or is this the price she will pay for having a shapeshifter in her life?
This story was a bit of a departure from Ms. Shinn’s intricate series as her characters seemed a bit underdeveloped and the secondary characters were relegated to very brief appearances. The premise is interesting but I found Maria to be too clingy and irritating, filled with angst but trying to hold it in to keep her relationship on an even keel. The interaction between the main characters seemed unhealthy and the pacing of the book was slow until the last third or so. There are beautiful passages with imaginative imagery but the story itself feels two-dimensional and the ending seemed to be disingenuous with little resolution of some of the dangling threads.
For fifteen years Maria Devane has been desperately, passionately in love with Dante Romano. But despite loving him with all of her heart and soul, Maria knows that Dante can never give all of himself back-at least not all the time.
Every month, Dante shifts shape, becoming a wild animal. During those times, he wanders far and wide, leaving Maria alone. He can't choose when he shifts, the transition is often abrupt and, as he gets older, the time he spends in human form is gradually decreasing. But Maria, who loves him without hesitation, wouldn't trade their unusual relationship for anything.
Since the beginning, she has kept his secret, knowing that their love is worth the danger. But when a string of brutal attacks occur in local parks during the times when Dante is in animal form, Maria is forced to consider whether the lies she's been telling about her life have turned into lies she's telling herself...