The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

The Shape of Desire by Sharon ShinnThe Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn
Narrator: Erin Moon
Series: Shifting Circle #1
Published by Audible Frontiers on 4/3/12
Genres: Fantasy, Romance

Story: B-
Narration: B-

Quick Review:

This book unwinds at a leisurely pace and has a real-world feel to it, despite the inclusion of shape-shifters. A woman who has spent fifteen years desperately in love with a man who keeps the supernatural aspects of his life a secret from her (and the reader) and who is now able to spend less than a week with her each month might not be a character every reader will warm to but her gradual journey to a contented life, some thoughtful meditations on love and the secrets we protect, and a leavening of humor balanced out Maria’s pining and a mystery plot whose resolution left me thinking Uh, OK.

The Plot:

Maria Devane has spent fifteen years watching the love of her life, Dante Romano, leave her for longer and longer stretches of time each month. Dante is a shape-shifter and as he ages, he spends more time in various animal forms. Although she has friends at work and a loving family, Maria has resigned herself to a life where she hides her relationship with Dante and pours her passion into a handful of days each month. When a co-worker’s abusive relationship spills over into her life and a string of wild animal attacks occur nearby, Maria is forced to question her own relationship and ultimately both her safety and what she’s willing to sacrifice for love.

My Thoughts:

Shinn’s stories have a quiet build to them that I appreciate. In her previous novels that slow build has been buttressed by the vivid fantasy world-building. With this book the world is realistic and while Dante and his family are shape-shifters, that aspect is envisioned both as a personality characteristic (where how it manifests in each Romano varies between the siblings) and as a part of their lives that they hide. We don’t see them shift, there isn’t a pack dynamic or a complex history surrounding their abilities, and while it acts as a point of conflict because it keeps Dante away from Maria for long periods of time and affects his sense of self-worth, it doesn’t add the dynamic to the story that a reader might be looking for. This book is not really about romance but rather is a book about love – what we’ll sacrifice for it and what the difference is between how we perceive it and how those outside the relationship view it – and the secrets we hide from those close to us.

As we learn more about Maria’s co-worker Kathleen and her abusive relationship, I enjoyed teasing out the parallels between her life and the choices Maria makes to maintain her relationship with Dante. When I talk about the man who expresses interest in a woman after she shows a willingness to keep secrets and hide a violent event from the police, who engages in behavior that can be emotionally and possibly physically harmful to his girlfriend, and who seems to exercise all the control in the relationship, I could just as easily be talking about Dante as Kathleen’s husband. When Maria reassures Dante that she will never leave him and voices the line “‘I love you,’ I say. ‘That changes the shape of everything else.’” it almost echoes Kathleen’s protestations of love for Ritchie.

Details are parceled out (a little late in the book for my tastes) about how Maria and Dante met and how Maria has explored the boundaries of her decision to stay with him. The climactic moment seemed somewhat awkwardly constructed but I was satisfied with the dénouement. I enjoyed this book because I like character-driven stories and the author has constructed Maria as a realistic and generally likable (if somewhat needy) woman but it is my least favorite of Shinn’s books to date. I know several ‘Maria’s: the quiet, hard-working, fun-to-be-around-when-among friends woman who, like we all do, has made compromises in search of happiness or in the name of love. That sense of her as a real person is something that is often absent in genre fiction and if you are looking for supernatural thrills combined with romance you might be disappointed.

The Narration:

This is my first listen to one of Erin Moon’s performances and despite a few issues I encountered, the narration was enjoyable. This first person presentation contains a frequently employed rise and then fall in pitch and/or trailing off at the termination of many of the narrative statements that set up a rhythm to the narrative that I found somewhat distracting. Dialogue, however, did not suffer from the same problem. It was crisp and reactive and the characters were fully-voiced and easy to individually pick out of the conversational crowd. I was irritated with some proofing misses such as “cumulates” instead of “culminates” (3:53:43), “Babler Stake Park” (9:56:50),“dulsitory” in place of “desultory”, gaping pronounced as gapping (8:06:45), “limned”pronounced limed (long i), and several others. Although some of the text directive didn’t come through in the tone of the narration, I was immediately drawn in by the subtle desolation given to Maria’s voice when Dante leaves and the vulnerability and confusion in Kathleen’s voice as she struggles with her decision to stay in an abusive marriage as well as the down-to-earth and snappy delivery given to Maria’s co-worker, Ellen. There were very natural character asides that were easily distinguishable as internal comments and not dialogue and the tone struck during Maria’s dryly delivered commentary was pitch perfect.

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