Posted by: Lori Devoti
Bones popping, characters going into heat, females rolling over and exposing their bellies in an act of submission–all of these can be found in shapeshifter novels. How real is too real?
There are three basic types of shapeshifters in most novels.
- Illusion: The person/god/being doesn’t “really” shift; they just project a shape different than their own.
- Magical: The beings actually change form into another shape, but magic does all the work. One minute they are human, the next wolf/coyote/dragon/etc. (note: I’m putting shifters who need something like a selkie who needs his skin generally in this category.)
- Scientific/Realistic: The beings actually change form, but some weight is given to keeping this realistic. Body mass stays the same, and usually it’s pretty darn painful.
In addition to variety in how “real” the change may be, authors vary on how “real” other aspects of the shifters’ senses, skills and instincts may be. Does a cat shifter see better at night? Are canine shifters color blind? Do both go into heat? How about life in the pack–is there one main alpha and other characters exhibit submissive tendencies? All of these things vary from book to book, author to author.
On the realistic end I’d put the Kitty books. In the first book Kitty shows some submissive behavior that can be a bit unsettling when looked at from our modern (human) female eyes, but it fits with what a submissive female wolf might do. I tend to keep my shifters somewhere in the middle. They shift magically (no groans or popping), but they have canine sight (especially in canine form) and tend to have some characteristics you would expect in pack animals. On the illusion end there are books like Jana Oliver’s Time Rover series . Her shifters don’t physically change, they, according to Jana, “alter the way you perceive them (as compared to actually altering their form).”
So, that all said, what do you prefer? How much reality can you stomach? Or how much magical convenience can you swallow?