May 16, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue
In yesterday’s post, The Alpha Problem, I waxed non-eloquent about how the term Alpha has been abused in recent shifter novels, most especially Paranormal Romance.
I promised a list of shifter books of which I approve and I intend to deliver. However, I realized my main concern is really the degradation of the Alpha male character in my favorite genres. Especially when it comes to him as a romantic interest.
So, today we’ll talk about books about shifters in general that I like and tomorrow we’ll get to the Alpha male and I won’t have to limit myself to shifters in that post.
So, grab a pen and paper, locate your Kindle, or get your Goodreads bookshelves ready for stocking, ‘cuz here comes…
The Ninja Squirrel-Approved List of Shifter Books
1. Ilona Andrews:
This is a husband/wife writing team, which makes me happy just because. Their Urban Fantasy books are absolutely phenomenal and the worlds are very unique. When I discovered them, I finished all 8 of the books they had published at the time within 2 weeks.
Their Kate Daniels series is written from the POV of Kate, a magical mercenary with a smart mouth that’s almost as big as her sword. Her love interest throughout the series is Curran, a grey lion shifter and the Beast Lord who rules all the shifters of Atlanta.
The Kate Daniels cosmology does have shifters as very dominance-focused society. While most of the individual races of shifters are patriarchal, the females are plenty strong in their own right. There are plenty of dominance and political games being played and Curran is the epitome of the Alpha male and will not tolerate his authority being questioned.
Which is just tough for him, because that’s what Kate does.
Kate refuses to be anything but an equal to the Beast Lord, driving Curran absolutely insane. The interplay between Kate and Curran is tense, hilarious, and smoking hot. It’s so much fun to watch them challenge each other at every step.
The squirrels rate this series as: “Uh oh. Looks like you’ve finally met your match, dude.”
2. Patricia Briggs:
Briggs has two shifter-based series, both set in the same world and sharing some characters: The Mercy Thompson series and the Alpha and Omega Series.
Briggs’s werewolves have a very rigid social structure that is controlled by the Marrok who rules over all werewolves in the US, with local packs run by Alphas put in position by him. Everyone else’s place in their packs is determined by their dominance level. Challenges are often fought to determine these roles and a shifter with a weakness or a vulnerability can readily become the target of challenges and, potentially, death.
Briggs’s system works because she juxtaposes family, relationships, and responsibility against this brutal society. There are certainly characters who abuse the system, but they are our villains. The true Alphas in her books fight to protect more submissive wolves and want the best for their packs.
I also appreciate that she does make a distinction between submissive and weak. The Alpha and Omega series has a truly interesting werewolf phenomenon the Omega. Anna, the female protagonist in this series is an Omega, which means she is neither dominant nor submissive. She is immune to the compulsions of dominant wolves and has the unique ability to soothe werewolves who are losing control of their beast.
Anna is actually a damsel in distress when we first meet her, but we learn that she does have spine and mettle. Most importantly, her strength lies in her compassion for others and her ability to negotiate.
The squirrels rate both of Briggs’s series as, “Ooh look, these monsters have real depth!”
3. Carrie Vaughn:
While Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series isn’t my favorite, I did enjoy the books and I think they deserve an honorable mention here for having the audacity to have shifter main characters who do not qualify as Alphas, but still lead a pack.
I like that Vaughn’s werewolf society isn’t so well-defined or rigid as others. There are simply packs with territories and the most dominant wolf ends up as the pack leader or Alpha. That doesn’t mean that character meets the definition of an Alpha male or female, only that they are the boss.
Vaughn’s series has Kitty progressively growing into her leadership position and working through her insecurities. She’s a radio show host and a problem solver. She gains loyalty through her strength of character and her wits, not by hulking muscles or aggressive behavior.
The reason I wasn’t as fond of this series is because Vaughn makes werewolves too human for my taste. I prefer shifter books where they aren’t just people who happen to have fur and fangs, because I like stories where the characters are dealing with inner demons and themes about what it means to be a monster. This is a personal preference, that doesn’t mean that the Kitty Norville series is bad.
The squirrels rate this series as: “Shifters are people, too!”
Faith Hunter: Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series doesn’t deeply explore shifter society, but her main character makes this series worthwhile for shifter fans. This is the only series I have read where a shifter quite literally has a beast inside her and not just metaphorically speaking. Jane Yellowrock is a skinwalker who can shift into any animal she wishes so long as she has access to a sample of genetic material, BUT she also shares her body with one specific animal, a puma named Beast.
Beast is truly The Shit. I adore Beast.
She even has her own Facebook page.
Laurell K. Hamilton: Hamilton’s Anita Blake series is one people seem to either love or hate. It’s a strange mash-up of thriller, horror, and romance that unfortunately devolves into more of a soap opera in the later books. The good news is that there are 21 books in the series as of this date. The issues most readers complain about don’t hit until after book 7.
I’d recommend the Anita Blake series specifically because of Hamilton’s exploration of what it means to be a monster. The shifters in her books (and they come in just about every animal species imaginable) are predominantly monsters and even the “good ones” have some fairly significant inner demons to contend with on top of paranormal threats, normal life issues, and relationship problems.
Your turn! What are your favorite shifter novels?
As you can see, I’m in desperate need of some good shifter books by self-published and indie authors, so please clue me in!