Shapeshifters are typically humans who are able to transform into an animal—or, more generally, something able to transform its physical shape. And although shifters may seem like a relatively recent—and extremely popular—focus in fantasy novels, they are certainly not “new” to history.
Shifters date back to Greek mythology, with many gods and goddesses (like Metis, the first wife of Zeus) having the ability to take the shape of their choosing. And, of course, many notable books featuring shapeshifters have been published in the last two hundred years. Since that list would be quite a feat to sort through, here are 10 worth your time.
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The Wolf's Hour
In this alternative history novel, British spy Michael Gallatin is the most ferocious Nazi hunter out there. Gallatin has been brought out of retirement to recover vital information from the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied Paris, and not only does he have intelligence on his side—he’s also a werewolf. This dark fantasy book features a shifter in a race against time to defeat a truly evil enemy.
Tea with the Black Dragon
From the title, you can probably guess the shifter in this fantasy novel. When Martha Macnamera arrives in San Francisco after receiving a plane ticket from her estranged daughter (whom she’s only communicated with through phone calls at odd hours of the night for years), she becomes increasingly worried when she doesn’t hear from her. Instead, she meets a man who agrees to help her find her daughter … that is, before Martha, herself, disappears.
The Werewolf of Paris
There’s nothing like a classic werewolf story to get a perspective on previous generations’ views on shifters. In this genre-defining story, shifter Bertrand Caillet seeks to calm the demons inside, while the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune serve as a backdrop. Published in 1933, the terror Bertrand inflicts is reflective of the place and time.
Jane Yellowrock is the last of the Cherokee skinwalkers—supernatural beings who can turn into any creature they desire. Trained as a vampire hunter, it’s a bit shocking when one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans hires her to hunt a rogue vampire who is killing the others. Though Jane can shift into whatever she wants, she primarily chooses to turn into a big cat—referring to her alter ego as “Beast.” Though they are different beings with the same soul, they coexist together.
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Dead as a Doornail
The books that inspired HBO’s True Blood follow mind-reading waitress Sookie Stackhouse and her adventures with the paranormal. When she meets Bill and can’t read his thoughts, Sookie thinks he’s the man she’s been waiting for—but the reason she can’t hear Bill’s thoughts is because he’s a vampire. As Sookie comes to discover, were-animals, other shapeshifters, and not-quite-humans exist all around her—and they make for a much more exciting existence.
Magic and technology are at odds in Andrews’ fantasy world. One moment protection spells work, and the next there’s nothing but regular technology (like weapons) to save you. When Kate Daniels’ guardian is murdered, the Masters of the Dead (magical beings who can control vampires) and the Pack (made up of shapechangers) blame each other for a series of killings and pressure Kate to find the true killer.
Lola Galley lives in a world where 99 percent of the population changes into werewolves when the full moon rises. But, she’s in the 1 percent—known as the barebacks—who don’t. When her friend is injured by a “lune,” as they call werewolves, and killed before the attacker is tried, she seeks justice. Apart from being a fantasy story, the book seeks to make a social commentary on the treatment of marginalized groups.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Though the entire Harry Potter series would fit well here, the third installment is particularly important, as that’s when Harry and friends learn about Animagi. Simply put, witches and wizards can learn to master the ability to transform into an animal. The presence of Animagi plays an integral part in the Prisoner of Azkaban, as the main plot line hinges on one wizard’s ability to stay in his animal form.
In a world where dragons and humans coexist, dragons are considered to be an emotionless species who can take the form of humans and experience their feelings. Heroine Seraphina is the daughter of a human and a dragon. After the human prince is murdered and a dragon is suspected, Seraphina is forced to hide her dragon-self as to not be targeted. Part coming of age story, part fantasy tale, this shifter book deals with self-identity and acceptance.
One of the most popular vampire/werewolf stories out there, the young adult Twilight series centered around a love triangle between a human and two other species. The werewolf shifters are apart of the Native American Quileute tribe—gaining the ability to shapeshift when dangerous vampires are near. The book features both action and romance, as the human protagonist Bella Swan must decide if her heart lies with vampire Edward or werewolf Jacob.
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