Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Review Tuesday -- Coming Together: Strange Shifters edited by Lynn Townsend

Coming Together: Strange Shifters
Edited by Lynn Townsend
Coming Together, 2015

If you’ve been following this blog (or the other blogs to which I contribute), you probably already know how much I value originality. These days, it’s a struggle not to drown in a sea of books with nearly identical premises, plots and characters. I can appreciate, intellectually, the fact that some readers value the predictability that comes with precise genre labels. That’s definitely not how I feel, however,

Just being different from the crowd of me-too releases is not sufficient to guarantee I’ll like a book—but it’s a good start. Hence you won’t be surprised to learn that I really enjoyed Lynn Townsend’s collection of erotic tales featuring out-of-the-ordinary shape shifters. I have nothing against werewolves (and indeed, there’s one in this book), but as Ms. Townsend points out in her excellent intro, “The Animal Inside”, the thematic and erotic potential of half-human, half-animal creatures is far richer than what one finds in the traditional shifter story. As they explore the human/animal dichotomy, the authors in Coming Together: Strange Shifters have created tales full of unexpected, bizarre, wondrous, hilarious, and highly arousing shifters.

Perhaps my favorite story (among many that stand out) is Lily Malone’s “Tar Pit Triage”. Two male sabre-tooth tiger shifters compete for a scarce female, and for the lordly title of Khan. Ms. Malone’s primordial universe is new and fascinating, but I was most impressed by the contrasts she creates between the human and animal experience. In cat form, the characters have finely-tuned senses and powerful muscles, but limited intellectual capabilities. Human shape offers the advantages of analysis and agency at the expense of physical weakness.

Gator Tail”, by Leigh Ellwood, is an equally brilliant though far less serious contribution. In Ms. Ellwood’s world, shifters are required (by the government, no less!) to live in human form for a certain number of days per quarter. A grumpy alligator shifter perfectly happy to lounge in his cozy lagoon gets a visit from an admittedly attractive Shifter Investigations Division agent. Forced to spend a couple of non-scaly days in a hotel, James decides to take advantage of the agent with the cute butt, only to find Agent Neil Roller has some unexpected tricks up his sleeve.

The editor’s contribution, “Mouse Games”, is another delight. A cat-shifter and a mouse-shifter explore the delicate, shifting balance between predator and prey. Ms. Townsend’s descriptions of her mouse heroine as she struggles to escape the cat hero are close to perfect. I could see it all.

A Hand Outstretched” by Elizabeth L. Brooks is a well-crafted sword-and-sorcery fantasy with some delicious M/M lovemaking thrown in. I won’t tell you what sort of shifters it features. It will be far more fun for you to guess.

In “Dive”, Lukas Scott offers a more contemporary tale about a life in a small seaside village that happens to be a frequent site for migrant shipwrecks. Tio is a quintessentially Mediterranean character, both sensual and cynical. As he scavenges for valuables in the latest wreck, he’s seduced by a seahorse shifteran experience that profoundly changes his view of the world. The writing in “Dive” is glorious. The shapeshifter component is as strange as advertised.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit the story I found most arousing was “Champ” by Margot McGuirea tale of the sexual attraction between a woman and her pet dog. Yeah, I know. Sounds like bestiality to me too, though they only couple in human form. But maybe that’s part of the appeal of shifter stories. The narrator is convincingly canine, even when he takes the shape of a man.

The prize for the most unusual shifter goes to Adrik Kemp, for “Small Change”. The main character in this story is five guinea pig shifters. You may think I’ve made a grammar error in the last sentence, but I’m serious. The sexy, dark-eyed entity that Shane the bartender chats up in the shifter bar Small Change is an aggregate of multiple animals.

This is just scratching the surface. The Strange Shifters in this collection include tigers, bears, panthers, wolves, reindeer, ravens, songbirds, lizards, cats, rabbits, and a penguin (in my own contribution, “Snowbound”). In short, there’s something for every animal lover in Strange Shifters.

In closing, let me remind you that every Coming Together book supports some worthy charity. In the case of Strange Shifters, all proceeds will be donated to Bat World Sanctuary (batworld.org), one of the leading organizations for the rehabilitation and care of bats.

So if you like shiftersand if like me, you enjoy being surprisedwhy not pick up a copy of this book? Dracula would be proud.

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