Sharon Shinn
The Shapechanger's Wife
Ace Books 1995

Aubrey, the young and talented wizard, is sent by his teacher, Cyril, to Glyrenden to learn about shape-changing. But first Cyril gives Aubrey a piece of advice: You must learn everything, and forget nothing, and beware of Glyrenden at all times. When he arrives at the great shape-changer's home, Glyrenden is away for a couple of days. Instead, he meets the shape-changer's strange and beautiful wife, Lilith, and his two very odd servants, Orion and Arachne. But when the possessive Glyrenden comes home, the atmosphere in the house becomes even stranger. Aubrey step by step learns shape-shifting, but he also learns to hate his teacher - and to love the shapechanger's wife.

This weird drama is set in a magical 18th Century, I would say. The kingdoms are unnamed, but the religion is pagan and polytheistic, so it's obviously not set in our world. However, the technological and cultural development seems to be on an 18th C level. In most fantasy books, those facts would be important. In this book, they aren't.

The whole story is on a personal level. There is a king, but we never meet him. There are powerful wizards, but their struggle is not about universal supremacy, it's about the love of and power over a woman who is not what she seems - Lilith. There is nothing epic about the story, nothing grand. That is welcome. After reading a couple of series by David Eddings, Robert Jordan and their copycats, it is simply refreshing to read a book like this.

The book is well-written, but still the story is told in a simple and straightforward way with no room for literary experiments. I really like the way she writes. Combined with the lack of grand scale save-the-planet stuff, it creates an fantasy book for adults (in a very non-pornographic sense), and I'm not at all surprised that Peter S. Beagle recommends it. I liked it too.

Karl Henriksson

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Henriksson & Henriksson 1996.