Aubrey is a young wizard, apprenticed to Glynrenden, the most powerful shape-changer in the land. Aubrey wants to learn all of his magical secrets, but instead discovers a mystery surrounding the shape-changer’s wife, Lilith, which may change everything Aubrey has ever known.
The Shape-Changer’s Wife is a beautiful fairytale romance, with a haunting, slightly creepy undertone. Glynrenden is a menacing character, and Shinn does a wonderful job of eliciting a sense of dread during his interactions with the other characters. Similarly, the interactions between members of Glynrenden’s household and the local villagers underscore the simmering tension and a growing realization that something is not quite right. This makes for an effective counterbalance to what could have been an overly sweet love story. Shinn also manages to write a novel that is appropriate for YA audiences without dumbing down the storyline.
The love story is where the novel stumbles slightly. I’m still not sure why Aubrey fell in love with Lilith. It seems such an odd pairing, and I never really felt an emotional response to the match. It seemed as if they fell in love with each other because they were the only people around, rather than out of a true compatibility. The other slight misstep in the novel was the unfolding of the mystery surrounding Lilith. It was fairly obvious early on what the big surprise was going to be.
Those two quibbles aside, The Shape-Changer’s Wife is a beautifully written story by Sharon Shinn. She has a gift for descriptive prose and creates a richly imagined world. The ending plays out with satisfying and realistic consequences and choices made by all the main characters, even though that doesn’t allow for a traditional happily ever after conclusion to this fairytale story. However, Shinn does include a short epilogue which holds out hope for a maybe someday happy ending. Readers who enjoy fairytales or a heavy dose of romance with their fantasy would enjoy this novel.