Angela Knight, Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, Virginia Kantra
Came out in 2008
50 words or less: Four stories from popular paranormal romance authors centering on the theme of shape shifters, with high levels of boy meets girl shenanigans, boys turning into animals, and of course, abundant nookie.
The fun thing about these short story anthologies is that they (like life) are a lot like a box of chocolates on sale after Valentine’s Day, except that just to make it interesting, someone has taken the sheet that explains what all of the chocolate flavors and centers are, leaving you to just kind of grab one and guess. If the chocolate is one of the dark chocolate covered peanut butter ones, it’s great and you’re in good shape! If it’s say, one of those weird apricot ones, well, at least it’s over quickly.
Such is definitely the case with Shifter. The first story, “Mad Dog Love” by Angela Knight, toes the line between quirky but fun paranormal romance and weird apricot chocolate territory. It’s the story of enslaved werewolf Rance Conlan and empress of the future Zarifa Lorezo and their adventures finding her outlaw brother. Anyone who’s ever read her Mageverse series knows that Angela Knight definitely isn’t afraid to take ideas that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, like Arthurian legends and vampires or, in this case, werewolves and space, and jam them together until somehow, a story emerges. A story does emerge here, but it’s not a life-changing one by any stretch.
The second offering, Lora Leigh’s “A Jaguar’s Kiss,” is definitely more interesting. A short entry in her Breeds series, this is the story of Natalie Ricci (a human) and Saban Broussard (a laboratory experiment where human and jaguar DNA were combined to create a supersoldier…or something…) and it not only does well as a stand-alone story, it also got me interested in reading more of the Breed series.
Up next is “Shifter’s Lady” by Alyssa Day, which is part of the Warriors of Poseidon series. I’ve read the first two (I think) books in the series, and honestly I’m no closer to deciding whether I like them or not than I was before reading this. Ethan is a panther shifter trying to solve a rash of assaults and murders; Marie is the First Maiden of the Nereids who hasn’t ever left Atlantis until now. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the story that developed from this premise; I was just left feeling kind of disinterested in what happened to Ethan, Marie, any other characters from the series, or the world that they all share.
Of the four authors included here, Virginia Kantra was the only one I hadn’t come across before reading, and her “Sea Crossing” was, in my opinion, the most innovative story of the four. The beginning of the story reads like your standard Regency romance—young woman is ruined by her youthful indiscretions and is setting off to start a new life away from the society that wants nothing to do with her. While en route, she’s shipwrecked, rescued by a mysterious stranger, and brought to a strange town of sorts to recover. So far, so good, right? Except the town is populated by selkies, people who can turn into seals, and her ship was wrecked on purpose so the seal/people children could have a teacher. Griff, the hero of the story, has to figure out how to explain all this to Emma, the heroine, without it sounding as crazy as all that. It’s definitely a unique premise and it worked for me.
Reviewing anthologies is tough because each story has to rely on the other ones for cohesiveness, and one clunker can definitely offset the enjoyment of the others. Shifter isn’t a perfect story collection by any stretch, but the selection of authors represented and the diversity of the stories work well together, and although some of the stories weren’t my cup of tea they’re a good, cheap way to discover new authors without having to sit through a full-length novel.
Overall grade: B-