Being able to turn into an animal always seemed like it would be a lot of fun. But what if it wasn’t? What if the human half of the shifter didn’t like the ability — or felt it hindered their professional life or relationships?
That’s what life is like for Tobias at the start of Binding Shadows. He struggles to find the balance between the life he thinks he wants and the desire of the wolf he keeps tightly leashed inside him. His journey in the book is all about accepting the part of him he’s tried to deny for so long.
On the other hand, there’s Barbara. Hers is a different kind of power, but it creates the same dual sense of existence. She knows less about what she is but embraces her magical abilities to the extent that it is safe in a world where powers like hers, if revealed to the human population, are a death sentence.
In my initial thought, it would be their interaction that creates self-acceptance. After all, this is a romance, and one of the great things that relationships encourage us to become fuller versions of ourselves. But it wasn’t enough.
That’s when I realized so much of their rejection of themselves was based on past hurt, and it was going to take more than just making heart eyes at each other to move beyond it. The external forces –the danger of being revealed and their attraction — might nudge Tobias and Barbara in the right direction by forcing them to confront their denied realities, but change is an inside job.
For Tobias, that meant dealing with a history with his family. Fun for me, because the sprawling Vogel clan is one of my favorite groups to write (And they almost always appear in a group, like my own version of a Greek chorus)
For Barbara, that became letting go of past expectations (even ones lovingly assigned) to determine her own course. A lot of that comes out in the relationship she has with her mentor Veronika. I loved the unsentimental sweetness of their interactions.
Like Barbara, there have been people that have functioned, formally or informally, as mentors, at points in my life. They’ve filled the gaps between parents, teachers, managers, and friends. I love that relationship, and I always have fun exploring the, in my fictional worlds.
And because it’s not enough for Tobias and Barbara to battle their inner demons, I had to throw in a few external ones: a good book-that-should-not-be-read, a vengeful ghost, and a terrible boss.
For more shape shifting as a curse check out:
Sharon Shinn has a quietly wonderful series called The Shifting Circle, in which characters find the ability to shift as much a curse as a blessing. There is a romance sub-plot, but the bulk of the story revolves around the larger world in which shifters must hide.
I enjoyed the second book, “Still Life with Shape Shifter” most because it revolves around the relationship between two sisters: one a shapeshifter and one human.
Since they’re loosely connected, I feel it reads well as a standalone.
Likewise, The Wolves of Mercy Falls is a YA series by Maggie Stiefvater that features a world in which the rules of shifting make life more complicated for the characters. The romance between a wolf-shifter and human girl (both teens) drives the story of a pack of wolves in the modern world pursued by hunters seeking vengeance after teens turn up dead in wolf attacks.
These books don’t standalone however, so you’ll definitely want to start with Shiver and continue in sequence.
Are their other stories you’ve enjoyed that feature reluctant main characters or ones that are struggling to live with something other people might think of as a gift?
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