Tough Travels: Shapeshifters

It’s Tough Travelling time again, and this month’s theme puts the spotlight on a kind of fantasy character that I  have a particular fondness for: the shapeshifter.

Tough Travels was originally created by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn, revived on Fantasy Faction, and is now hosted by the team at The Fantasy Hive. Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s humorous classic The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, every month it highlights a particular fantasy trope, theme or cliché, and invites bloggers to list stand-out books related to that week’s theme.

Here’s what the Tough Guide has to say about shapeshifters

“Shapeshifting is frequent among both WERES and MAGIC USERS. The usual form taken is that of a wolf, but lions, eagles, serpents, owls and cats are common too. In all cases the Rule is that the Shapeshifter cannot stay too long in ANIMAL form without actually becoming that animal and losing touch with her/his human thoughts.”

Shapeshifting is a magical ability I almost always enjoy encountering in fantasy books. I just love the idea of people being able to shift into other forms, particularly animal forms, and the unique viewpoint or experience that provides. I feel like no two shapeshifter characters are ever exactly alike (except admittedly werewolves), and they can vary so much depending on the animal or creature they turn into or the limits on their powers.

Picking favourites is difficult, since I like so many shapeshifters, but I’ve put together a list of five that I found particularly memorable:

Moon Called

Book Cover: Moon CalledTime for a bit of urban fantasy! And don’t let the cover fool you, this is not an erotic book, or even really a romance. The main character in Moon Called can shapeshift into coyote form at will, and this rare skill ends up making her a kind of go-between or ‘peacemaker’ in a neighbourhood of werewolves, humans, vampires, fairies and all manner of other creatures.

I also liked that she was a tough, independent character without being the personality-less or self-congratulating superwoman you sometimes encounter in urban fantasy stories (films particularly) that try to feature a strong female character.

Bound

Book Cover: Bound

Bound is a YA fantasy with a heavy focus on the romance, so I’d recommend it to people who aren’t averse to romance in their fantasy.

The male lead character in this book can shapeshift into eagle form, and while initially a bit of a villain, he does have a good side (it’s an “enemies-to-lovers” story – my favourite kind of love story). I enjoyed the unique perspective his eagle form gave him and the influence it had on the way he met and interacted with the other characters.

Mistborn

Book Cover: The Final Empire

I feel like a bit of a broken record mentioning Mistborn and the Kandra again, since I mentioned them already for the Non-Human Heroes topic, but they are just some of the best shapeshifters out there so they had to feature.

The Kandra are shapeless blob-like creatures who can take the form of another person or animal by absorbing their bones. They are so good at impersonating others that telling the real person from the Kandra imposter is often a challenge.

Harry Potter

Book Cover: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneI loved the way the Animagus in Harry Potter were at the centre of many mysteries and surprises. Particularly memorable is Rita Skeeter, who used her shapeshifting powers to illegally spy on people, and of course Sirius Black, whose dog form was mistaken for an evil omen.

I think my favourite, however, is Professor McGonagall, both because she is a wonderful character, and because I’d just love to be able to transform into a cat.

Daughter of the Forest

Book Cover: Daughter of the Forest

Daughter of the Forest is a fantasy romance with a very historical, realistic feel, not to mention a fairy-tale-inspired story. But don’t let that make you think this is a light and fluffy book – it has some very dark parts, and explores the hardships and long struggles that are often only briefly sketched in a few sentences in a traditional fairy tale.

It features characters who transform into swans, and while they’re not exactly in control of the transformation – in fact it’s more of a curse – I loved the role it played it the story and the way it made the characters treasure being human.

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For links to more Tough Travelling posts, or to join in yourself and see next month’s theme, check out the host page on The Fantasy Hive.

And if you have your own favourite fantasy shapeshifters, feel free to mention them in the comments!

< Last Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Elves’

Next Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Apprentices’>

47 thoughts on “Tough Travels: Shapeshifters

  1. I love Patricia Briggs! So glad she has another Alpha & Omega book coming out next month. I enjoy the shapeshifting in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals series. If you haven’t read the series, start with Alanna’s 4 books first. I also love Kelley Armstrong’s werewolves.

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    • Great you like her too! And I’ve had Pierce’s Alanna and Immortals series on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time now – I am super keen to read them though so next time I go book shopping I’ll be sure to add Alanna to my cart. I haven’t read any Kelley Armstrong but I’ve seen her Darkest Power series pop on Goodreads – probably something I’d enjoy too (argh, so many good books, so little time!).

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      • Pierce’s books are extremely fast reads. Alanna, Immortals, and Protector of the Small are all 4-book series set in the same universe, in that order. There is also a 3-book series featuring Beka Cooper set in the same universe but much earlier. All 15 of these books are some of my all-time favorites and I have read all of them at least 3 times, some of them many more than that! 😀 For Kelley Armstrong, I would start with the “Women of the Otherworld” series – the first is ‘Bitten,’ I believe. I think they’re better than Darkest Power (YA audience, set in the same universe). Not that you probably need anything else on your to-read pile, but the entire series (13 books + several short story collections) is fantastic.

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        • Great to know they are such fast and enjoyable reads, not to mention all-time favourites! I’m really looking forward to reading them and I’ll definitely be picking some up next time I go book shopping. I’ll put Bitten on my list too, since you say that series is better than Darkest Power – thanks so much for the tips!! 🙂

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  2. I think this posts are always super interesting 😊 God, I love McGonagall too, who doesn’t?
    I’ve got a question to “Daughter of the Forest”: Is it based on the story, that’s told in “Swan Lake”? Because that’s the only fairytale I could think of which is about transforming into a swan. 😊

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    • Thanks!! Yeah McGonagall is awesome 🙂 And Daughter of the Forest is loosely based on the fairy tale ‘six swans’ (which I think is different to Swan Lake) – I’d never heard of it before I read the book but apparently it’s in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale collection.

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  3. I love this post! Shapeshifters are some of my favorite characters too! I’d say that Tamora Pierce’s “The Immortals Quartet” main character, Daine, is my favorite shapeshifter of all time!

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  4. Shape shifters also help to add that suspense of “Who done it” as well, in the case of bad guys, bringing to mind the Changeling in Terry Brooks “the elfstones of Shannara. I am using a shapeshifter in my novel I am working on as well. Another shapeshifting book I enjoyed was “Blood of Requiem” by Daniel Arenson. Because well… dragons!

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    • True, it does add that intriguing ‘who done it’ or ‘how did they do it?’ element with villains. Nice you have a shapeshifter in your own work – I’m tempted to write something with shapeshifters in it too… they can be such interesting characters. And I haven’t heard of ‘Blood of Requiem’ but I like the sound of shapeshifting dragons!

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  5. Daughter of the Forest sounds great. I’ll have to look for it. I’ve read the fairy tale it’s based on, and I found it somewhat distressing, so I’m glad to hear the book takes on those difficult issues.

    Speaking of unintentional shapeshifting, an example I like is Om from Small Gods. He’s a powerful deity who loses the devotion of his followers, and without their belief he has no power, so he gets stuck in the form of a tortoise.

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    • Yes it really is a great book, and it definitely doesn’t shy away from tackling those difficult elements. I am curious to read the original fairy tale now – I have the Grimm’s collection on my shelf so I’ll have to open it up and have a look.

      I haven’t read Small Gods but that’s interesting that one gets stuck in tortoise form. Certainly not a form I’d like to get stuck in!

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      • It’s available at my library, so I’m going to try it. The Grimms actually have a few different versions of that same story. My favorite is The Seven Ravens, because the girl saves her brothers by going on a quest, instead of sitting in silence. I also like The Twelve Brothers, because even though it has many issues, it at least has nice sibling relationships.

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  6. In Tamora Pierce’s two book series starting with ‘The Tricksters Choice’ the main male character is a raven that shape shifts into a human. In her short stories book, ‘Tortall and Other Lands’, Tamora Pierce explores more of the the raven’s culture and their taboo’s. Its also a reverse shape shift and the longer the ravens are human the more human they become.

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    • Ah interesting – it seems Tamora Pierce writes about shapeshifters a lot! (people have mentioned other books of hers in comments above too). I really have to start reading her work. That series sounds great – I love ravens and shapeshifters, and I love the idea of the reverse shapeshift problem of becoming more human.

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  7. I love shapeshifters too. I’m interested in checking out some urban fantasy at some point and Moon Called sounds great! And I like the sound of Bound (sounds like a cool take on an enemies to lovers trope as well 🙂 ) Good choice with Mistborn! And the Animagus is one of my *favourite* world building parts of Harry Potter and why I *adored* book 3 (just having that be such a central plot point was really brilliant to me and pretty much blew my mind). I also loved how it added so many different things to the plots as the stories progressed (like the whole Rita Skeeter thing) And Daughter of Forest sounds awesome! Brilliant list! 😀

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    • Yes Moon Called is a really good one for urban fantasy! And Bound is good too, esp. if you like enemies to lovers stories and evil characters that turn good 🙂 (the fantasy elements are fairly standard, but I didn’t mind, I was there for the characters and the romance!). The Animagus really were at the centre of book three, it was such a cool revelation to realise they could all shape-shift and why, and it really did add to the later books too. What’s funny is even though I knew people could turn into animals from the start of the very first book with McGonagall, I didn’t even imagine the possible ramifications of that till later.
      Yes I can highly recommend Daughter of the Forest… it has some dark/difficult moments, but it’s a great book. Thanks!!

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  8. Oh you made me so excited to try Bound! Being a romance fan and an even bigger fan of enemies to lovers, I was instantly enamored ❤️
    I’m also really glad Moon Called’s story isn’t as awful as its cover because I sure wouldn’t have picked it up! It just looks really bad 😅 Really happy it’s actually a nice book!
    I’ve read Daughter of the Forest and loved the swan shifting too. Well, not loved because it was really quite heartbreaking but I did find it super interesting. I know it was based on the fairy tale but I still found it original, especially how it ended. And yeah, that is one dark story.
    I love shifters so much so I was excited to read this post of yours! Very well structured and super awesome, Nicola ❤️

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    • Yes I can certainly recommend it, esp. if you like both those things!! I think it’s actually a self-published book – I don’t even remember how I first discovered it, probably through a recommendation 🙂 I would say it’s underrated but I see since I read it it’s got a lot more reviews and rating on Goodreads, so maybe not anymore – which is great! Anyway, if you try it I hope you like it.

      Haha yeah tbh the Moon Called cover also made me dubious but I’m glad I overlooked it. And yes Daughter of the Forest is definitely a dark and heartbreaking story (which I think people often don’t expect going into it), but I’m glad you liked it/found it interesting too.

      Thanks!! 🙂

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  9. AUGH now I have more books to read. 🙂

    I read “Daughter of the Forest,” and I believe I liked it, but I hardly remember anything about it except the concept. =/

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    • Haha, you’re welcome! 🙂 It’s been a while since I read ‘Daughter of the Forest’ too so things are a little hazy as well, though I can still remember the main plot points. I found the beginning a little slow but really enjoyed it once I got past that.

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  10. Reading your post, I’m inspired to write my own shapeshifter story, maybe one where people’s forms shift the same way our facial expressiins change, a reflexive manifestation of our emotions. I like the idea of shifting as various gradients, where most treat it as a transition between stable forms. I also think it would be interesting if being particularly tired or emotional could cause a loss of control over one’s form.

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