The Shape of Desire
Sharon Shinn’s novels are a mixed bag for me. I’ve really enjoyed her YA stuff, and a couple of her adult novels, too, while others of her adult novels I’ve found underwhelming or even dull. This one, though, just irritated me. It’s a paranormal romance featuring an incredibly dysfunctional relationship, and the characters aren’t likable enough to make their devotion to one another believable, much less justifiable. Maria’s obsessive attachment to her shape-changer lover Dante (yes, really) was so ridiculously over-the-top that I honestly thought she was going to end up realizing the error (and psychological unhealthiness) of her ways. You see, Maria loves Dante sooooooo much that she is willing to lie for him, potentially endanger others for him, throw away everything else she wants from life in order to keep him, risk her livelihood and all her other relationships for him, and trust him in the face of all the evidence. At the beginning of the book, she kept describing the various ridiculously dysfunctional relationships of her relatives and colleagues (e.g. physical and emotional abuse, “open” relationships, clandestine affairs, etc.), and then essentially saying, “But I can’t judge them, because look at MY ridiculously messed-up love life.” She had a point, really, but I suspected – or maybe just hoped – that the author would guide Maria toward seeing how incredibly unhealthy this relationship actually was. But no. It was not to be. Instead, the “all you need is love” theme remained front-and-center, with the psychological healthiness – much less moral quality – of that “love” remaining irrelevant.
Not only is Maria’s obsessive devotion to Dante probably clinically classifiable, but Dante himself is just not interesting or believable as an object of such devotion. Now, I recognize that in real life, codependent or obsessive relationships are often not comprehensible to those outside of them. But this is fiction, people. We’re supposed to believe that Dante is somehow Worth It. Yet the author did not persuade me of this. For one thing, he’s so rarely around that we hardly get to know him. This problem could have been alleviated with some character-based flashbacks, or with some internal monologues related specifically to Dante’s wonderful personality or admirable characteristics. But, again, no. Dante remains personality-less, and therefore incomprehensible as an object of such dedication, and all that we really see drawing Maria to him is the sex. Which does seem to be something of a fixation for both of the characters, seeing as how that is the prime way we see them interacting with each other. Now, maybe it is possible for two people to maintain a decades-long, wholeheartedly devoted relationship based purely on physical attraction. But even if that is possible, those aren’t the sort of characters I want to read an entire book about. Unfortunately, I apparently just did.
Content note: Yeah, there are a fair number of sex scenes, the majority of them more awkward than explicit, but definitely “adult”. There’s also some bad language.